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Patients who are allergic to medicines or medical products must be treated with care to avoid them suffering life-threatening injury from the most severe form of allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock.

All medical treatment should take into account what is already known about a patient’s allergies, whilst remaining alert to the risk of further allergic reactions, based on their medical history, current conditions and medication. Some areas of medicine, such as anaesthesia and radiology, routinely involve drugs and products which can cause severe allergic reactions.

Failure to consider the patient’s risk of anaphylaxis, or to react quickly and correctly when it occurs, can result in devastating injury, disability or death.

When someone is severely injured from anaphylaxis as a result of medical negligence, the patient or their bereaved family may be entitled to claim compensation.

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening, and often sudden allergic reaction to an allergen. The anaphylactic reaction is the immune system’s overreaction to the presence of the allergen, which it tries to attack by producing inflammatory chemicals. This exaggerated response affects the whole body, causing life-threatening symptoms, such as organ failure from anaphylactic shock.

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency which requires immediate emergency medical treatment. Adrenaline or epinephrine, if given immediately, may reverse the body’s severe reaction to the allergen and save the patient’s life.

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Common allergens which can cause anaphylaxis during medical care

Public awareness campaigns have increased our awareness of the dangers of allergic reactions to food, such as nuts, shellfish and dairy produce. The NHS estimates that 1 in every 4 people in the UK will experience some form of (mild or more serious) allergy during their lifetime. Schools, restaurants and other public places are required to be increasingly vigilant about protecting young children from allergens, which are also listed on the packaging for food that we buy and eat at home.

The risks of anaphylactic reactions from medicines and medical products during medical treatment tend to be less widely understood.

Allergens which can trigger anaphylaxis in a medical setting, such as during hospital treatment, include:

  • drugs used in general anaesthetic;
  • antibiotics, such as penicillin;
  • some painkilling and anti-inflammatory drugs, (known as NSAIDs), such as aspirin;
  • some vaccines;
  • latex or natural rubber, which is used in surgical gloves, wound dressings, catheters and other tubes;
  • contrast dyes, which are used in scans and radiology procedures to highlight areas of the body, such as a blood vessel, for tests or treatment.

Where a patient is known to be at risk of allergic reaction to medicines, latex or other allergens, alternatives can usually be used and arrangements made for their treatment to take place safely.

You should always tell any healthcare professionals involved in your treatment about your medicine allergies, as they may not be aware of them.

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What happens during anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. The body’s severe reaction to the allergen will often affect the person’s ability to breathe, their heartbeat, blood pressure and circulation, and their level of consciousness. These are known as ‘ABC symptoms’ -  relating to the Airway, Breathing, Circulation/Consciousness.

The patient’s condition can deteriorate very rapidly into life-threatening anaphylactic shock, which is why emergency treatment must be given at the first sign of an anaphylactic reaction.

Initial symptoms of anaphylaxis may include:

  • a persistent cough;
  • hoarseness in the voice;
  • difficulty with swallowing;
  • a swollen tongue;
  • difficult or noisy breathing;
  • wheezing;
  • fast heartbeat;
  • feeling lightheaded or faint;
  • feeling confused;
  • having clammy skin;
  • flushing of the skin;
  • hives or a rash;
  • swelling of the skin anywhere on the body (such as, face or lips);
  • abdominal pain;
  • nausea and vomiting; 
  • unresponsive or unconscious.

These symptoms are caused by inflammation and swelling affecting the patient’s respiratory system and lungs. Leakage from the capillary blood vessels into the tissues of the body creates a sudden, severe drop in blood pressure. This sudden drop in blood pressure (known as shock) affects the blood circulation and reduces the oxygen supply to vital organs. This causes organ failure, leading to kidney damage, brain injury and cardiac arrest.

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Who is at increased risk of injury from anaphylaxis?

Someone who has previously experienced a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis will always be at risk of having further, more severe, anaphylactic reactions. Where the cause of their reaction is unknown, this is called idiopathic anaphylaxis.

People with allergies to medicines, latex and contrast dyes are at increased risk of anaphylaxis in a medical setting.

People with asthma have an increased risk of suffering respiratory distress from anaphylaxis because of the severe reaction’s effect on the respiratory system.

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What kind of injuries lead to anaphylaxis medical negligence claims?

We can help recover compensation for patients and their families after negligent medical care caused serious injury from anaphylaxis, such as: 

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What kind of medical errors lead to anaphylaxis medical negligence claims?

Whilst some anaphylactic reactions cannot be predicted or prevented, patients who suffer severe injury or death from anaphylaxis may be entitled to compensation if their injury arose from medical mistakes.

Examples of negligent treatment leading to anaphylaxis injury claims include:

  • giving a patient medication, drugs or anaesthetic to which they were known to be allergic;
  • giving a patient medication, drugs or anaesthetic to which they had previously had an allergic reaction;
  • injecting a patient with contrast dye to which they were known to be allergic;
  • exposing a patient to latex or other materials to which they were known to be allergic;
  • failing to assess the patient’s risk of anaphylaxis before their procedure/treatment by:
    • checking the patient’s past medical history, conditions (such as asthma) and current medication;
    • checking whether the patient has any known allergies or risk factors;
    • discussing potential risks of allergy or anaphylaxis with the patient; 
  • delaying or failing to recognise and treat (as an emergency) signs of anaphylaxis;
  • pharmacy medication errors;
  • prescription errors.
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What compensation can I claim for serious injury from anaphylaxis after medical negligence?

The amount of compensation that each client can claim depends on the severity of their injury and the way it affects their life. They may be unable to return to work, or need help with everyday activities. They may need adaptations to their home and car to assist with mobility and access, and access to specialist therapies. Where the patient has suffered injuries of the utmost severity, they may remain dependant on others for all aspects of their care and daily life.

Compensation settlements may include payments for:

  • pain and suffering and disability;
  • care and case management;
  • private medical costs;
  • essential home adaptations;
  • rehabilitation, therapies and counselling;
  • specialist equipment;
  • prosthetics (after amputation);
  • assistive technology;
  • loss of earnings and pension;
  • special educational needs (where the injured person is a child);
  • adapted vehicles, wheelchairs and additional transport costs.

In claims involving fatal injury, the family and dependants may be entitled to:

  • funeral costs;
  • a payment for bereavement;
  • the cost of replacing the deceased’s ‘services’, such as childcare or domestic assistance;
  • their loss of dependency on the deceased’s income.
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"Julie Marsh is a first rate litigator"

Julie Marsh is a first rate litigator who adds real value to all her cases. I have always been impressed not just by her expertise as a clinical negligence lawyer but by the way she treats every client as an individual and works on their case as if it is the most important thing in the world, which to many clients it really is.

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Boyes Turner have a great asset in Julie Marsh, she has handled my case with such professionalism and has kept me informed at every stage over the 6 years. She has given me guidance, support and that personal touch where I could ring or email at any time and she would always answer and give me answers to any questions I had. Would recommend without hesitation. Thank you

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Tara Byrne kept me well informed at all stages of my claim. I have been impressed with the way my case was handled, and the time scale within which a settlement was reached.”

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Boyes Turner helped me through one of the toughest times in my life. They were very professional whilst remaining friendly. At times the process was emotionally tough but they were very patient with me and went through everything with me until I understood it. I cannot recommend them enough. 

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Words cannot express how grateful we are to Susan and her team for the level of commitment and dedication shown to our family during a time which would be difficult for anyone. Susan demonstrates a calm professional manner which helped us to feel at ease. Her level of knowledge has proven to be the best in the field and we fully recommend her to anyone seeking to investigate birth injury claims. You can be confident that Susan and her team will scrutinise the medical notes thoroughly and will keep you well informed throughout the process. We are very pleased with the outcome of our child’s case and know that her work has resulted in justice being achieved. Our family will now be able to move forward in the knowledge that the finances are securely in place for our child to receive a suitable care package, purchase equipment and receive necessary lifelong therapy. We cannot thank Susan and her team at Boyes Turner enough.

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