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Written on 7th February 2020 by Susan Brown

This Anaphylaxis Awareness Week we have seen many timely reminders from organisations who are raising awareness of the dangers of the most severe form of allergic reaction, anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock. Whilst most people, particularly parents of young children, may already be aware of allergies to food, such as nuts, shellfish and dairy produce, the risks of anaphylactic reactions arising from medicines and medical products tend to be less widely understood. In certain branches of medicine, such as anaesthesia and radiology, failure to consider the patient’s risk of anaphylaxis or react quickly when it occurs, can result in severe injury, disability and sometimes death.

Where serious injury from anaphylaxis is the result of medical negligence, the patient or their bereaved family may be entitled to claim compensation.

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a severe, often sudden, allergic reaction to an allergen (something the person is allergic to) which can quickly develop into life-threatening symptoms, including organ failure from anaphylactic shock. During an anaphylactic reaction, the body’s immune system overreacts to an allergen to which it has been previously exposed by producing inflammatory chemicals to attack the allergen. This exaggerated response affects not just the allergen but the whole body. Unlike less serious forms of allergic reaction, anaphylaxis is a medical emergency which requires immediate emergency medical treatment. Swift treatment with adrenaline or epinephrine may be needed to reverse the body’s aggressive response to the allergen and save the patient’s life.

Once somebody has experienced anaphylaxis they are always at risk from further, often more severe anaphylactic reactions. The cause of the reaction may be unknown (“idiopathic anaphylaxis”) but in a medical setting, patients may suffer reactions to allergens such as latex, contrast dyes (used in radiology/scanning), and drugs such as those used for anaesthetics or antibiotics, such as penicillin.

How does anaphylaxis affect the body?

Anaphylaxis produces ‘ABC symptoms’ which affect the Airway, the Breathing and the patient’s Circulation and Consciousness. The patient’s condition can deteriorate very rapidly, at risk to their life, but the initial symptoms often include:

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

These symptoms are caused by inflammation and swelling affecting the respiratory system and fluid in the lungs. As anaphylaxis affects the respiratory system, people with asthma are at increased risk of respiratory distress from anaphylactic reactions. The reaction also causes capillary blood vessels to leak into the tissues of the body, and this causes a sudden, severe drop in blood pressure. Without sufficient blood circulation, the patient will suffer organ failure, potentially leading to hypoxic (from lack of oxygen) brain damage and permanent injury to other organs, and cardiac arrest.

Anaphylaxis injury claims after medical negligence

Patients who suffer severe injury or death from anaphylaxis may be entitled to compensation if their injury arose from medical mistakes. These might include:

  • giving a patient a drug or medicine to which they were known to be allergic
  • injecting a patient with contrast dye to which they were known to be allergic
  • failing to check whether the patient had any known allergies or risk factors before the procedure
  • failing to recognise and treat early signs of anaphylaxis
  • pharmacy medication errors

The amount of compensation that can be claimed will depend on the type and severity of the individual’s injury and the effect that it has on their life. Compensation sums may include payments for:

  • pain and suffering and disability arising from the negligent failure
  • care and case management
  • ongoing medical costs
  • essential home adaptations
  • rehabilitation, therapies and counselling
  • specialist equipment and assistive technology
  • loss of earnings and pension

Where the injury was fatal, the family and dependants may be entitled to:

  • funeral costs (if the patient died)
  • bereavement damages
  • the cost of replacing the deceased’s ‘services’, such as childcare or domestic assistance
  • their loss of dependency on the deceased’s income

If you or a member of your family have suffered severe injury from anaphylaxis as a result of medical negligence and you would like to find out more about making a claim, contact us by email on