What is Anaphylaxis?

I didn't know what anaphylaxis was. Now I sort of take it for granted that everyone knows what it is, which if course they don't.

The Dictionary defines Anaphylaxis as: Hypersensitivity especially in animals to a substance, such as foreign protein or a drug, that is caused by exposure to a foreign substance after a preliminary exposure.

It also defined Anaphylactic Shock as : A sudden, severe allergic reaction characterized by a sharp drop in blood pressure, urticaria, and breathing difficulties that is caused by exposure to a foreign substance, such as a drug or bee venom, after a preliminary or sensitizing exposure. The reaction may be fatal if emergency treatment, including epinephrine injections, is not given immediately.

My first exposure to analphylaxis was when Isabella was about 5 months old. She had had eczema in varying degrees since she was a bout 6 weeks old, the most recent and severe bout was treated with oral steroids and I finally felt we had gotten on top of it. My Mum had been pestering me (in a caring way of course) that maybe Bella was being affected by the food I was eating coming through in my breast milk.

We were attending a wedding in Tasmania, and so flew down for a long weekend. After the wedding (where I had eaten smoked salmon, cakes, desserts laden with eggs and dairy!!), I thought I could see the effects of my milk in her cheeks as I fed her. I sent Peter off to get formula, bottles and a breast pump to save Bella from my poisonous breast milk.

We gave her a bottle made up with Cow's milk formula. She drank 5 maybe 10mls tops, and began to scream (not just cry), as I mopped up the milk she spat out, I noticed her neck swelling. At first Peter thought I was over-reacting (which I am known to do) – but mothers intuition rules and I didn't back down. We bolted straight downstairs (we were in a hotel), got directions to the nearest hospital, loaded her in the car and raced to get help. She was still screaming (which is good cos it meant she could breathe), and threw up rather violently. 

Thankfully the hospital was close and empty. We were seen immediately. By this time she was starting to get a bluish tinge around her mouth. I don't think her airway was completely constricted, but I was beside myself never the less. She was treated there and then shipped to the children's hospital for observation over night.

Mum was right (isn't she always), but what a way to confirm it!

Bella now has an Epi-pen (adrenaline injector) with the school nurse and one which we take with us. Fortunately, we have never needed to use it…. touch wood.


To learn more about Anaphylaxis, listen to Sabrina's story. Sabrina died in 2003 from anaphylactic shock. Her story is heart-breaking.


4 responses to “What is Anaphylaxis?

  • Kathleen Whelan

    Kylie, How lovely, to come across a link to Sabrina’s story on your blog. I am Sabrina’s aunt and helped her to make the radio documentary. In many ways we feel Sabrina is still advcocating for kids with allergies.
    Much has happened since the passing of Sabrina’s Law on May 16th, 2005.
    I wonder is that Bella on the pony.. the pony looks like a Norwegian pony- very cute.
    All the best to you, Bella and our family on your journey of living with allergies.

  • kylie

    Hi Kathleen,

    Thanks for taking the time to drop me a line. You did an awesome job in producing Sabrina’s story. It actually made me cry. You are right – Sabrina is absolutely helping to get the word out to the community (well actually the world) about food allergies.

    One of the photos is Bella on the horse – she is the one in the dark pink, longer coat. The other photo is her cousin Maddy. I have no idea about the horse’s breed. Its a gentle friendly old thing, that lives on my cousin’s farm in Warrigal – not far from where we live in Melbounre.

    Thanks for your well wishes – and a very special thanks to you and your family for being brave enough to share your personal tragedy. My heart goes out to you.

  • David Patterson

    My wife, mother of 2, and spouse for 10 years, just suffered from a near death experience from anaphylaxis while I was away on business. Families need to have an emergency plan in place if anything like this ever happens. You can read her story here.

    Anaphylaxis story of Beth Patterson

  • Joshua McDonald

    Tired of using the epipen, think there should be a new needle free solution??? That is not far off! A team of 9 boys has come up with the solution! Help make it a reality by voting for it to win a $20,000 grant towards developing it!

    Link to voting webpage:

    Link to the teams blog:


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