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Anaphylaxis, also called anaphylactic shock, is an acute, life-threatening allergic reaction. The reaction affects different organs in the body, one or several at a time. Even if the initial symptoms are experienced mildly, there is a risk that they may rapidly turn into a serious and severe condition. Anaphylaxis can occur immediately or within minutes, depending on the route of exposure, and can worsen quickly.
Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical attention and a trip to the emergency department. Because it can get so serious so fast, speedy treatment is incredibly important. This is why people with a known allergy carry epinephrine, usually in an auto-injector.
The most common anaphylactic reactions are to foods, insect stings, and medications. Foods are the most common cause in children and young adults, while medications and insect stings are more common causes of anaphylaxis in older adults.1
Although anaphylaxis is rare and most people recover from it, it's important to know what caused—or what could cause this severe reaction.