Anaphylaxis occurs commonly in community settings. The rate of occurrence is increasing, especially in young people. Understanding potential triggers, mechanisms, and patient-specific risk factors for severity and fatality is the key to performing appropriate risk assessment in those who have previously experienced an acute anaphylactic episode. The diagnosis of anaphylaxis is based primarily on clinical criteria and is valid even if the results of laboratory tests, such as serum total tryptase levels, are within normal limits. Positive skin test results or increased serum specific IgE levels to potential triggering allergens confirm sensitization but do not confirm the diagnosis of anaphylaxis because asymptomatic sensitization is common in the general population. Important patient-related risk factors for severity and fatality include age, concomitant diseases, and concurrent medications, as well as other less well-defined factors, such as defects in mediator degradation pathways, fever, acute infection, menses, emotional stress, and disruption of routine. Prevention of anaphylaxis depends primarily on optimal management of patient-related risk factors, strict avoidance of confirmed relevant allergen or other triggers, and, where indicated, immunomodulation (eg, subcutaneous venom immunotherapy to prevent Hymenoptera sting-triggered anaphylaxis, an underused, potentially curative treatment). The benefits and risks of immunomodulation to prevent food-triggered anaphylaxis are still being defined. Epinephrine (adrenaline) is the medication of first choice in the treatment of anaphylaxis. All patients at risk for recurrence in the community should be equipped with 1 or more epinephrine autoinjectors; a written, personalized anaphylaxis emergency action plan; and up-to-date medical identification. Improvements in the design of epinephrine autoinjectors will help to optimize ease of use and safety. Randomized controlled trials of pharmacologic agents, such as antihistamines and glucocorticoids, are needed to strengthen the evidence base for treatment of acute anaphylactic episodes.
Copyright 2010 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Published by Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved.