Purpose of review: Anaphylaxis is frightening and patients commonly fear their next reaction will be fatal. This review looks at the characteristics of fatal reactions to find if a fatal recurrence is predictable.
Recent findings: Most publications on fatal anaphylaxis are case reports that do not help predict risks. Most epidemiological studies focus on non-fatal reactions. The UK fatal anaphylaxis register demonstrates that over two-thirds of those dying from sting reactions and over four-fifths dying from drug anaphylaxis had no previous indication of their allergy, whereas those dying from food allergy had usually had previous reactions but these were typically not severe. Recent reports of anaphylaxis epidemiology based on diagnostic coding or attendance for treatment may be biased by differences in health service resource utilization according to the cause and course of the reaction.
Summary: Most fatal anaphylactic reactions are unpredictable. The appropriate management after recovery from a severe reaction may be protective against a fatal recurrence. An accurate identification of the cause and effective avoidance is a crucial part of this management, together with effective treatment of asthma for those with food allergy, immunotherapy for sting allergy, the avoidance of drugs that potentiate anaphylaxis, and effective training in self-treatment.