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HealthInfo Canterbury

Anaphylaxis (severe allergy)


Anaphylaxis can cause death and is a medical emergency. If you think you or someone near you is suffering anaphylaxis and they have an adrenaline pen or injection give adrenaline then immediately phone 111. Watch this short video on how to use an adrenaline autoinjector (all brands are similar and work the same way).

Anaphylaxis is a severe life-threatening allergic reaction. Causes include insect bites, bee stings, food (for example, nuts), and medications. Anaphylaxis tends to happen in just a matter of minutes. Signs and symptoms to look out for include:

  • tongue swelling
  • swelling or tightness in the throat
  • difficulty breathing – may be noisy or wheezy (whistling sound)
  • difficulty talking
  • collapse
  • loss of consciousness
  • floppy and pale (young children).

First aid

How do I help someone suffering anaphylaxis?

How do I use an adrenaline injection pen (for example an Epipen or Anapen)?

EpipenAn Epipen or Anapen is an automatic adrenaline injector for the emergency treatment of anaphylaxis. Medical training isn't needed to use one.

Watch this short video on how to use an adrenaline autoinjector (all brands are similar and work the same way).

You can get adrenaline injection pens online from Allergy Pharmacy, or most pharmacies, and you don't need a prescription. The pens have an expiry date of one year and it's important to check this as an expired pen may not work. Although adrenalin isn't publicly-funded, ACC reimburse Epipen or Anapen when it is used as treatment for anaphylactic reactions. ACC may also provide cover for work and non-work related anaphylaxis.

What can I do if I'm at risk of anaphylaxis?

If you're at risk of anaphylaxis, talk to your doctor. You can ask them to help you complete an action plan that you can then keep with your adrenaline. The practice nurses at your general practice can give you and your whānau or family training in how to use an adrenaline injection pen.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2018. Last updated September 2019.


See also:


Oral allergy syndrome

Page reference: 48946

Review key: HIAPH-19327