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If you think someone is having an allergic reaction, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance. If you have access to an ASCIA allergy action plan, follow it, including injecting an adrenaline autoinjector (such as an EpiPen™) if you have one.

Key facts

  • Anaphylaxis is the most severe type of allergic reaction.
  • It can happen after exposure to certain triggers including foods, bites and stings or medicines.
  • Symptoms of anaphylaxis include difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat and collapse.
  • If someone is having anaphylaxis, use an adrenaline autoinjector (if available), call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
  • People with a known allergy should always carry 2 adrenaline autoinjectors and an ASCIA allergy action plan.

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is the most severe type of allergic reaction.

It can happen after exposure to certain triggers, such as:

Anaphylaxis develops rapidly and can be fatal, so should it always be treated as a medical emergency.

If anaphylaxis progresses, it can lead to a dangerous drop in blood pressure. This is known as ‘anaphylactic shock’.

What causes anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is triggered by the immune system when it recognises a harmless allergen as ‘dangerous’ and releases a natural chemical called histamine. Histamine causes inflammation when it is released in the body.

The symptoms of an allergic reaction will vary from person to person. They also depend on the type of allergen and where it entered the body (for example, eaten, applied to the skin or inhaled).

This immune response can affect many different body systems, including the skin, digestive system and most dangerously, the respiratory or circulatory systems.

What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis?

Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include any one of the following:

  • difficult or noisy breathing
  • difficulty talking and/or hoarse voice
  • a swollen tongue
  • persistent dizziness or collapse
  • swelling or tightness in the throat
  • pale and floppy (young children)
  • wheeze or persistent cough

Sometimes, other less dangerous symptoms come before anaphylaxis:

Watch this video from Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia to learn how to recognise signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Video not working? View it here.

What should I do if someone is experiencing anaphylaxis?

First aid for anaphylaxis

  1. Lay person flat and keep them still — do not let them stand or walk.
  2. If they are unconscious, place them in the recovery position.
  3. If breathing is difficult or they are vomiting, allow them to sit with legs outstretched, but not to stand or walk.
  4. Inject an adrenaline autoinjector if one is available.
  5. Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
  6. Further adrenaline doses may be given if there’s no response after 5 minutes.
  7. Transfer the person to hospital for at least 4 hours of observation.

Watch this video from Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia to see how to position a child or an adult having a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).

If the person is unresponsive and not breathing normally, start CPR.

If you are not sure — always use the adrenaline autoinjector. It is better to use it than to not treat a serious reaction. Adrenaline does not have serious side effects if given unnecessarily, but it can be lifesaving.

If the person also has asthma, give the adrenaline autoinjector first and then the asthma reliever puffer.

How can I prevent anaphylaxis?

People with diagnosed allergies should avoid all triggers and confirmed allergens.

They should also always carry:

It’s a good idea to ensure your friends and family know how to follow your anaphylaxis action plan too in case you need help.

Resources and support

For more information on anaphylaxis, including setting up a personal action plan, go to

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

This information was originally published on healthdirect - Anaphylaxis.

Last reviewed: December 2022

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Need more information?

How to give Epipen - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

How to give an EpiPen®

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

Action Plans & etraining - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

Action Plans Visit  ASCIA Anaphylaxis Resources for  more than just Action Plans for Anaphylaxis EpiPen®   ASCIA e-training ASCIA Anaphylaxis e-training for school and childcare ASCIA anaphylaxis e-training for health professionals ASCIA anaphylaxis e-training for pharmacists ASCIA food allergy e-training for dietitians and other health professionals

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

How to give Epipen - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)


Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Severe allergic reaction - using an EpiPen

First aid fact sheet

Read more on St John Ambulance Australia website

How to give Epipen||Other Languages - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

HOW TO GIVE EPIPEN in other langauges

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Adrenaline auto-injectors

The most effective first aid treatment for anaphylaxis is adrenaline given using an auto injector (such as an EpiPen®) into the outer mid-thigh muscle.

Read more on WA Health website

Adrenaline (epinephrine) autoinjector use - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

EpiPen administration - Adrenaline and temperature control (Based on data available in 2010) NOTE: Adrenaline (epinephrine) or adrenaline autoinjector refers to EpiPen®. Many individuals, parents and caregivers are concerned about the stability of adrenaline in temperatures over 25oC. The Australian climate often takes us beyond 25oC and many have been contacting Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA) with queries on maintaining temperature of the adrenaline autoinjector

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

In an emergency - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

If you believe someone is experiencing anaphylaxis you MUST GIVE the adrenaline (epinephrine) autoinjector (e.g. EpiPen®) according to instruction on the ASCIA Action Plan. If you DO NOT have an adrenaline autoinjector: Lay person flat - do NOT allow them to stand or walk CALL AN AMBULANCE: DIAL TRIPLE ZERO 000

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

At Home - Food Allergy Education

Educate those around you - Educate family, friends, babysitters etc Know the allergens, how to avoid the allergens and how to treat a reaction (including how to use an adrenaline autoinjector). Consider purchasing an EpiPen trainer to allow you and family/friends to regularly practice

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

What is Anaphylaxis? - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction and is potentially life threatening. It must be treated as a medical emergency, requiring immediate treatment and urgent medical attention. Anaphylaxis is a generalised allergic reaction, which often involves more than one body system (e.g. skin, respiratory, gastro-intestinal and cardiovascular). A severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis usually occurs within 20 minutes to 2 hours of exposure

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

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