Anaphylaxis is a generalized term for a severe reaction to an allergen that may be fatal if left untreated. Epinephrine, more commonly referred to as adrenaline, may be life-saving if administered to a person experiencing an anaphylactic reaction as quickly as possible.
What is anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can happen within seconds of exposure to an allergen, with peanuts and dairy being popular examples. But what makes someone allergic to these seemingly inoffensive substances? People who are allergic to these substances are allergic because their bodies respond to them as if they were infections. Our bodies are designed to attack foreign antigens and kill them, which results in the typical immune response to fever or inflammation. When your body detects that harmless substances are the equivalent to a foreign flu virus or bacteria, you are going to experience an unneeded immune response every time you come in contact with these substances. Anaphylaxis is a more severe immune response, resulting in chemicals flooding your bloodstream, resulting in shock; your airways close and your blood pressure drops, and immediate medical attention is necessary.
Why is epinephrine a life-saving drug?
Epinephrine is so useful during a anaphylaxis crisis because it increases blood flow in veins, thus decreasing swelling in your airways. Epinephrine, a hormone that the body naturally produces, is known as adrenaline and is associated with our fight-or-flight response. This is because epinephrine plays a significant role in the contraction of muscles, the metabolism of sugar in the bloodstream, and a person’s feelings of awareness and fear. Epinephrine may also attach to receptors on smooth muscle cells, which control autonomic processes such as breathing. So, when epinephrine is administered using an EpiPen, an epinephrine auto-injector, to the upper thigh, the hormone binds to the smooth muscle cells, causing airway constriction to subside. The hormone also signals your body to pump more blood, relaxing muscles and returning breathing to normal; this subsides the significant symptoms of anaphylaxis shock and may save a person’s life. However, it is important to note that epinephrine is not a long-term medication for allergies, and should not be a substitute for allergy medications such as antihistamines.
By Sarina Thapar