If you have a serious allergy or have experienced anaphylaxis in the past, it's important to try to prevent future episodes.
Finding out if you're allergic to anything that could trigger anaphylaxis can help you avoid these triggers in the future.
If you've had anaphylaxis and have not already been diagnosed with an allergy, you should be referred to an allergy clinic for tests to identify any triggers.
The most commonly used tests are:
- a skin prick test – your skin is pricked with a tiny amount of a suspected allergen to see if it reacts
- a blood test – a sample of your blood is taken to test its reaction to a suspected allergen
If a trigger has been identified, you'll need to take steps to avoid it in the future whenever possible. Read our advice about avoiding some specific triggers.
You can reduce the chances of being exposed to a food allergen by:
- checking food labels and ingredients
- letting staff at a restaurant know what you're allergic to so it's not included in your meal
- remembering some types of food may contain small traces of potential allergens – for example, some sauces contain wheat and peanuts
You can reduce your risk of being stung by an insect by taking basic precautions, such as:
- moving away from wasps, hornets or bees slowly without panicking – do not wave your arms around or swat at them
- using an insect repellent if you spend time outdoors, particularly in the summer
- being careful drinking out of cans when there are insects around – insects may fly or crawl inside the can and sting you in the mouth when you take a drink
- not walking around outside with bare feet
Some specialist allergy centres can also offer special treatment to help desensitise you to insect stings (immunotherapy).
If you're allergic to certain types of medicines, there are normally alternatives that can be safely used.
For example, if you're allergic to:
- penicillin – you can normally safely take a different group of antibiotics known as macrolides
- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin – you can normally safely take paracetamol; read the ingredients of things like colds medicines carefully to make sure they do not contain NSAIDs
- one type of general anaesthetic – others are available, or it may be possible to perform surgery using a local anaesthetic or an epidural injection
Always tell any healthcare professional about medicine allergies you have, as they may not be aware of them.
Carry adrenaline auto-injectors
You may be prescribed an adrenaline auto-injector if there's an ongoing risk you could develop anaphylaxis.
It's important to remember the following:
- carry 2 in-date auto-injectors at all times – there should be no exceptions; you may also be advised to get an emergency card or bracelet with full details of your allergy and doctor's contact details to alert others
- make sure you and any carers know when and how to use your auto-injector – read the leaflet that comes with it and practise with a training device, which you can get from the manufacturer
- extremes of heat can make adrenaline less effective – so do not leave your auto-injector in the fridge or your car's glove compartment, for example
- check the expiry date regularly and replace it before it expires – an out-of-date injector will offer limited protection
- manufacturers offer a reminder service, where you can be contacted near the expiry date – check the information leaflet that comes with your medicine for more information
- do not delay injecting yourself if you think you may be experiencing anaphylaxis, even if your initial symptoms are mild – it's better to use adrenaline early and then find out it was a false alarm than delay treatment until you're sure you're experiencing severe anaphylaxis
If your child has an auto-injector, they will need to change over to an adult dose once they reach 30kg (approximately 4.5 stone).
Page last reviewed: 29 November 2019
Next review due: 29 November 2022