Long-Term Effects of Anaphylactic Shock

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There are a number of long-term effects of anaphylactic shock, including anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People often experience feelings of anxiety about the possibility of having an allergic reaction, and it is normal to have anxiety symptoms after experiencing an allergic reaction.

A number of traumatic events—such as sexual assault, combat exposure, natural disasters, and motor vehicle accidents—can lead to PTSD. However, the link between anaphylactic shock and PTSD is often overlooked.

Get the facts about how anaphylactic shock increases one's risk of developing mental health conditions including anxiety and PTSD.

What Is Anaphylactic Shock?

Anaphylactic shock (or anaphylaxis) is a severe allergic reaction that can be triggered by a number of different things, including bee stings, certain foods (such as peanuts), or medicines. Symptoms can include rash or hives, facial swelling, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, and a runny nose. In some cases, a person can also experience difficulty breathing due to swelling of the throat. A severe case of anaphylaxis can result in death.

Anaphylactic Shock and PTSD

As you might expect, having such an intense allergic reaction may bring about feelings of panic, anxiety, and fears of death in patients.

Feeling sad, nervous, worried, fearful, or even guilty are all normal reactions have an experience with anaphylaxis, whether it happened to you, your child, or a loved one. Such feelings usually pass within a few weeks. If they do not, professional help may be necessary.

Consequently, an anaphylactic shock could be considered a traumatic event that may lead to PTSD. In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, a person needs to experience an event that meets the following criteria:

  • The experience or witnessing of an event where there is a threat of death or serious injury. The event may also involve a threat to a person's physical well-being or the physical well-being of another person.
  • A response to the event involves strong feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror.

Looking at the events that can unfold during an anaphylactic shock, there is no doubt that it can meet the criteria for a traumatic event that can lead to PTSD.

One study by researchers at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates and the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom examined PTSD symptoms among 94 people who have experienced anaphylaxis.

They found that more than half of people who have experienced anaphylaxis reported high levels of PTSD symptoms, especially avoidance symptoms. In addition, about one-tenth of people had symptoms severe enough that they would probably meet criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.

As well as PTSD, the people in this study said that they experienced other physical problems, in addition to anxiety, social problems, and depression, at a higher rate than people who hadn't experienced anaphylactic shock did.

Risk Factors

Certain factors may increase the risk of a person developing PTSD following a traumatic event. In the case of anaphylactic shock, factors such as:

  • The severity of the allergic reaction
  • Past experiences with allergic reactions
  • Existing mental health concerns

Allergies and Anxiety

The relationship between anxiety and allergies is complex. Researchers are still exploring the connection, but it is clear that allergies can contribute to feelings of anxiety. There is also some evidence that people with anxiety may be more prone to having allergies.  Several different studies have found a link between allergies and anxiety.

  • A 2013 study found that allergies were linked to an increased rate of mood and anxiety disorder. Interestingly, this study also found that people who received treatment for their allergies were less likely to have anxiety and mood problems than people with untreated allergies.
  • A 2016 study found that children with allergies have a higher risk of having anxiety and depression.
  • A 2019 study found that adults with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are more likely to have seasonal allergies.

While more research is needed to explore the connection, the emerging evidence indicates that there is an important link between immune dysfunction and mental health conditions. .

It is also clear that living with allergies, particularly those severe enough to cause life-threatening reactions, can create significant discomfort, stress, and fear.

How to Cope With Allergy-Related Anxiety

If you or someone you love has allergies or has experienced anaphylactic shock, it is normal to experience worry or even feelings of anxiety. There are many strategies that you can use to help yourself and your loved ones cope with these concerns. 

Self-Help Strategies

Some strategies that can help you cope with anxiety stemming from allergies include:

  • Deep breathing: This technique can help to slow your heart rate and manage stress when you are dealing with feelings of anxiety.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: This involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in your body.
  • Visualization: Picturing yourself in a calming place or situation can help to reduce anxiety.
  • Cognitive reframing: This is about changing how you look at the situation to see it in a more positive light. After a reaction, focus on the fact that the medication worked and that people were able to help you. 
  • Support groups: There are many allergies and anxiety support groups available online and in person. Joining one of these groups can help you to feel less alone and more supported.

Therapy and Psychoeducation

If your fears feel uncontrollable or severe, it is important to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Speaking with a therapist about your anxiety can help you to understand and manage your feelings. 

You can learn more about the effects of anaphylactic shock by consulting a health care professional, reading books about the condition, or consulting online resources. In addition, although PTSD from anaphylaxis hasn't really been studied extensively, the treatment for such PTSD would likely be the same as treatment for PTSD from other types of traumatic events.

In particular, exposure therapy, especially that which involves exposure to physical symptoms associated with anaphylactic shock, may be helpful in reducing avoidance behaviors and intrusive thoughts about the anaphylactic shock.

However, some avoidance behaviors are healthy among people who've experienced anaphylactic shock. If peanuts caused the allergic reaction, for example, it is perfectly acceptable for the patient in the future to avoid peanuts or products packaged in facilities with peanut dust.

When Your Child Has an Allergy

It is normal to feel anxious about your child's safety and well-being if they have an allergy. Things that may help you cope with anxiety about your child's allergies:

  • Talk to your child's doctor about allergies and anaphylactic shock. The more you know about your child's allergies, the less anxious you will feel. 
  • Be sure that your child always has any medication they may need on hand with them at all times.
  • Talk to your child and teach them how to use their emergency medication. Be sure that they understand both how and when to use it. 
  • Create a plan in case of an allergic reaction. This plan should include who to call and what to do in case of a reaction. 
  • Make sure that your child knows not to share food with others and to always wash their hands before eating.  

A Word From Verywell

Feelings of anxiety after an allergic reaction are both normal and expected. These feelings often fade with time, but you may still experience anxiety related to worrying about future allergic responses. It is important to address these fears to prevent anxiety from interfering with school, work, relationships, and other aspects of daily life.

Allergy-related anxiety is a real and valid concern. However, there are many ways that you can cope with this anxiety. Try out different techniques to find what works best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you get PTSD from an anaphylactic shock?

    It's possible. PTSD can occur after any type of traumatic event. Anaphylactic shock is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. And while it's not common, some people who have experienced anaphylactic shock can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

  • Can allergies cause anxiety?

    Yes. Allergies can be distressing and difficult to deal with. The stress of living with the unpleasant symptoms of allergies or the fear of having a severe allergic reaction can contribute to feelings of anxiety. There is also evidence that people with anxiety are more likely to have allergies, suggesting there may be some shared connection related to immune dysfunction.

  • How can you tell the difference between anaphylaxis and anxiety/panic attack?

    The symptoms of anaphylaxis and anxiety/panic attacks can overlap and can be difficult to distinguish. Both can cause shortness of breath, chest tightness, heart palpitations, and a sense of being unable to catch your breath. With anaphylaxis, you may also experience hives and swelling. Also, the symptoms of anaphylaxis usually come on suddenly and can be attributed to a specific trigger, while the symptoms of anxiety/panic attacks tend to build up over time. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening, so it's important to seek medical help right away.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Matthew Tull, PhD
Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder.