What Anaphylaxis is Like

Unfortunately, I’ve experienced anaphylaxis before. But, today was my biggest reaction to date. I wasn’t as careful as I should have been buying new food from the lunchroom, and even though I just took one bite, immediately I knew that something bad was in it.

My mouth started tingling and I took off towards the school nurse. On my way across the school, my lips swelled and my face got rashy. Soon, my tongue was also swollen and I couldn’t breathe right. As soon as I got to the nurse, she knew she had to give me the epi. She called 911 and I was rushed to the hospital for observation. My blood pressure dipped dangerously low, but I was fortunate enough to have a strong support team to keep me from going into anaphylactic shock (when poor circulation keeps the body from getting enough blood, sending you into a state of shock). Eventually, I was discharged with steroids and a whole lot of Benadryl (and a new EpiPen prescription).

I decided not to tell most of my teachers and friends what happened because I don’t like being interrogated. (Why did you eat something you’re allergic to? I didn’t know I was allergic. Did you look like a balloon? I was a little busy focusing on breathing to look in the mirror. Was the ambulance fun to ride in? I would rather have stayed at school not having a reaction.) [Side note: the reason I’m anonymous is because this blog is a resource for teens with allergies, not for my friends who just want to read it for fun. If they have a question, they can ask me in person.] But, I did tell a few close friends (two of whom have allergies) and most questions were about my EpiPen experience…

EpiPen or Auvi-Q?

I’ve owned both and the Auvi-Q is definitely easier to carry (though more people are familiar with the EpiPen. In fact, the hospital had never seen an Auvi-Q before mine.) In the spur of the moment, I had the choice and chose Auvi-Q. The Auvi-Q is less scary because it talks you through it and you don’t need to swing it (though the nurse did the injection, not me). When I refilled my prescription, I got the choice of which to order. To this day, I have only used the Auvi-Q and IV/hospital epinephrine. The EpiPen gets mixed reviews in relation to pain, so I got Auvi-Q, which didn’t hurt me.

Did it hurt?

I was a little busy trying to stay conscious and breathing to notice, but the suspense was worse than the pain. I could feel it for sure, and there was blood dripping after, but it would be worth using unnecessarily. Just a quick pinch (better than other vaccines at the doctor’s office, where you’re only focusing on the shot).

What are the side effects?

Look at the patient brochure for the list of possible side effects. Everyone is different. My only noticeable issue was increased heart rate. Some of the other side effects blend into the reaction, and some of the effects (like increased blood pressure) are the purpose of the drug.

What do I do about the soreness?

The Auvi-Q doesn’t seem to cause as much bruising as the EpiPen (even using the trainer). But, by the time I was leaving the hospital, my leg was quite sore (like the flu shot but worse). The fact that I hadn’t stood up since getting the shot didn’t help (thank you, paramedics). Once I got moving, though, it got a lot better. The first several hours I used a heat pack, to relax the muscles and spread any epinephrine still there. After that, I used ice to numb it.

Overall, this experience taught me about how important it is to have a support team with a plan in place. Without my wonderful school nurse, I could have stopped breathing and not been able to give myself epi. Today, I could have died. Yet I never was scared that it would actually happen.

Re-published with permission from The Allergic Butterfly