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Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that results from the interaction of an allergen (see causes below) with specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies bound to mast cells in the skin and lungs and basophils in the blood. The mast cell releases chemicals that act on blood vessels to produce a wide range of clinical effects throughout the body.

Full-blown anaphylaxis includes urticaria (hives) and/or angioedema (tissue swelling) with hypotension (low blood pressure) and bronchospasm (asthma).

Anaphylactoid reactions are clinically similar to those experienced in anaphylaxis. The only difference is that anaphylactoid reactions are non-IgE mediated and may be less severe.

Severity of reactions from anaphylaxis can vary from mild symptoms to sudden death. In any case, medical attention should be sought immediately and appropriate treatment given.

Food-induced anaphylaxis often produces skin reactions and respiratory symptoms whilst drug- or venom-induced anaphylaxis more often produces shock. Symptoms usually occur within 5-60 minutes of contact with the allergen, but sometimes occur after several hours, or even 3-4 days later. Fast onset and rapid progression of symptoms usually indicates severe, life-threatening anaphylaxis. One or more organ systems may be involved.

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