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Severe allergic reactions (e.g. anaphylactic reaction) occur when the body's immune system strongly reacts to a particular allergenic protein or irritant. These reactions may be caused by food, insect stings and medications.  When a reaction is triggered, onset of symptoms may develop quickly.
Common symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
• low blood pressure, dizziness, sweating, or fainting
• hives
• nausea, cramping, diarrhea, or vomiting
• swelling of the face and throat
• wheezing or difficulty breathing
Sometimes, anaphylaxis can cause other symptoms as well. These include:
• chest pain
• flushing
• headache
• itching
• seizures

Substances most frequently associated with food allergies and allergic-type reactions include eggs, milk, mustard,  peanuts, seafood (including fish, crustaceans and shellfish), sulphites, sesame, soy, tree nuts, and wheat and other cereal grains containing gluten.
Severe reactions are usually treated with an injection of epinephrine (adrenalin), antihistamines and/or steroids. Those known to have reactions should carry an EpiPen®, a device that allows you to give yourself an injection of adrenalin quickly.
If you or any member of your family has had a severe allergic reaction, you should take the following steps to minimize your risk of a reaction.
1. Know what foods or other factors trigger a reaction and avoid them.
2. When eating away from home, ask what is in the food you are to be served. When in doubt, do not eat the food.
3. Learn to read the nutritional/ingredient labels on foods to avoid even trace amounts of foods to which you are allergic. Contact food manufacturers if you have doubts about a particular food.
4. If your family members are subject to severe allergic reactions, train them to read labels and ask questions before eating foods.
5. Always carry an EpiPen® and know how to use it. If it is your family members who are affected, teach them how to use it.
6. Use the EpiPen® at the earliest sign of a reaction. Practice using the EpiPen® every few months and teach other family members as well.
7. Always wear a Medic Alert identifier, so that in case of an accident, others know about your allergies and reactions.
8. If you or your child are having a serious allergic reaction, go to your nearest Emergency Department, or dial 911 for instructions.
Review and/or print Severe Allergic Reactions bulletin from Health Canada::
For more information:
Anaphylaxis Canada
2005 Sheppard Avenue East
Toronto, ON M2J 5B4
Telephone: (416) 785-5666
Source: Health Canada – date modified October 24, 2008

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