Warm weather brings casual, communal dining, buzzing bees - and for some folks, anaphylactic shock. The wrong food or kind of prescription drug, a bee sting, an ant bite or latex can bring on a massive reaction. Your chances of anaphylaxis are higher if you have other allergies. Individuals sensitive to latex should know they might also react to bananas, kiwis and avocados and less commonly to potatoes, tomatoes and fruits with pits.
In anaphylaxis, the body's defence mechanisms run amok, sometimes swelling the throat and airways so severely that a person suffocates.
This is a medical emergency and requires heavy drugs and possibly emergency airway surgery. This is one of those times you call 911.
How do you know it's anaphylaxis? You'll see or experience the reaction as systemic. Usually hives (red, swollen skin bumps) are present, swelling of the throat, lips, tongue and eye area, and difficulty breathing or swallowing. Other common symptoms include a metallic taste or itching in the mouth, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, increased heart rate, paleness, anxiety and fainting.
While you're waiting for the ambulance (don't drive yourself!), use your EpiPen if you have one. (These devices deliver what can be a life-saving dose of adrenaline.) No EpiPen? Any anti-histamines in the vicinity will help, though they take longer to kick in. If you're with someone in anaphylaxis, monitor their breathing and heart beat and give first aid cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if their heart stops.
If anyone in your circle is prone to allergic reactions, stock up on homeopathic remedies like Carbolic acid, Apis, Carbo vegetabilis and Arsenicum album. Used every two to five minutes, these may buy time while the emergency crews are en route.
If you have allergies or asthma, the time to re-balance your immune system, say holistic practitioners, is before you ever get this sick. Individualized homeopathic, nutritional and herbal treatment, even psychotherapy specifically designed to uncover the particular stressful events that led your body to develop allergies, may reduce your risk of having such a severe reaction.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"If you have a known history of food allergy or anaphylactic reaction, you need to have an epinephrine pen. A late-phase reaction can occur several hours after the exposure (to an allergen). In some cases, you can have an immediate acute reaction, then seem to be fine, then have a response up to 30 hours later. A physician will prescribe steroids to reduce the incidence of a late-phase response. If you have an EpiPen, use it. If you don't, and you have any antihistamine in the house, use it. When in doubt, treat! A hidden source of food allergens is skin care products - 26 per cent contain common allergenic foods. Most of these are natural products, most often peanuts. Either that ingredient is declared, or it's listed as arachis oil."
ARI BROWN , MD, pediatrician, co-author, Baby 411, Austin, TX
"There are a few different homeopathic remedies that can be used while you're waiting for the emergency vehicles to arrive. Carbolic acid is very good in severe allergic reactions to bee stings, where there is difficulty breathing, in 30C potency every two, three or five minutes. This can be used in combination with an EpiPen. Another great remedy is Apis for sensitivities to chemicals, antibiotics and nuts. Carbo vegetabilis is for anaphylactic shock due to carbon monoxide poisoning or situations where there is a lack of oxygen. Arsenicum album is for toxic effects of pesticides and multiple chemical sensitivities."
TAMARA DER-OHANIAN , homeopath, Toronto
"If somebody has already had one incident, they need an allergy assessment to determine the cause and avoid exposure to that in future. (They also need) an EpiPen and a Medic Alert bracelet that says 'Anaphylaxis, Carries EpiPen.' If there has been a reaction to an insect sting, allergen injection treatment is very effective (as a preventive of future incidents). If the person is feeling faint, they should lie on their side so their tongue is not blocking their airway (while waiting for an ambulance). I'm not aware of any studies showing that homeopathic, herbal or nutritional interventions are effective means of anaphylaxis prevention."
SUSAN TARLO , professor, departments of medicine and public health sciences, U of T; respiratory physician, Toronto Western Hospital Asthma Centre
"When you're in the response, that's not the time to turn to herbs. Due to the life-and-death nature of this situation, to be working with ideas and theories on potential benefits of herbs would not be appropriate. (Rather) people could see an herbalist (preventatively or after an incident) to help re-balance the immune system. A number of things can cause (a tendency toward) hyper-reactions: food allergies, 'leaky gut' problems, a pro-inflammatory diet, stress, nutrient deficiencies, pharmaceuticals. These are things herbalists can look at."
CHRISTINE DENNIS , medical herbalist, president, Ontario Herbalists' Association, Port Burwell, Ontario For severe reactions, call the ambulance before you break out those holistic remedies