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Experiencing Trauma After Anaphylaxis

Teen with head in her hands

If you've ever experienced an allergic reaction, either yourself or through a family member, you know what feelings typically come to the surface.

Panic. Anxiety. Confusion. Fear.

And hopefully relief once the reaction is addressed with epinephrine.

But it's also not uncommon to experience trauma after an allergic reaction, especially if it was the first reaction, an anaphylactic reaction, or a reaction without knowledge of an allergy.

It's also absolutely understandable for an allergic reaction to take an emotional toll. Your emotions might feel like they're all over the place for awhile. You may even notice that your anxiety levels stay elevated for a period of time post-reaction. This is all normal and expected after a traumatic experience like an allergy reaction.​

But if you're finding that you're struggling to move forward after a reaction, and your life is being impacted by that, you may be experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS) / Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

What is PTSS / PTSD?

PTSS/PTSD is a diagnosis that typically arises after exposure to a threatening event (such as an allergic reaction), and often presents with symptoms of:

  • re-experiencing the event (through thoughts, dreams, flashbacks)

  • avoidance of situations or things that remind you of the traumatic event

  • hyperarousal (hypervigilance with bodily sensations, difficulty sleeping, etc.).

As shared by the NIH, initial reactions to trauma can include:

  • exhaustion

  • confusion

  • sadness

  • anxiety

  • agitation

  • numbness

  • hypervigilance

Additionally, delayed responses to trauma can include:

  • persistent fatigue

  • fear of recurrence

  • anxiety focused on flashbacks

  • avoidance of emotions

  • sensations and activities that remind you it

As you can imagine, managing PTSS/PTSD impacts your quality of life. Therefore, if you suspect you're dealing with PTSS/PTSD, it's important to consider reaching out to a mental healthcare provider to help you identify it and develop effective coping skills.

3 Things​​ Research Says About Trauma After Anaphylaxis

  • A study focused on exploring post-traumatic stress symptoms in parents of children with food allergy reported that 42.3% met the clinical cut-off for PTSS, indicating a need for greater awareness of mental health in parents of children with food allergy (Roberts et al., 2021)

  • Another recent study found a remarkably high prevalence of PTSD and associated psychological distresses, including anxiety and depression, in those that have experienced anaphylaxis (Lee et al., 2020)

  • That same study also noted that some research has speculated that alteration of inflammatory profiles, as observed in anaphylaxis, may even contribute to the development of PTSD (Lee et al., 2020)

3 Things to Know About Trauma After Anaphylaxis

  • Your Ability to Trust Might Be Shaken. You may struggle to feel like you can trust others, labels and even yourself after an allergic reaction. This is understandable! Remind yourself that moving forward after a reaction includes education and learning from the experience, which will help you regain the ability to trust.

  • Take Good Care of Yourself. It is important to focus on self-care after a reaction and while navigating trauma after anaphylaxis. This means prioritizing health and sleep, and re-establishing your normal routine. To get good sleep, especially during this period of time, practice good sleep hygiene (i.e. bedtime routines, etc.) and have strategies for when your mind wants to think while you're trying to sleep. Focus on getting back-to-basics and to a daily routine that includes activities that feel manageable and include things that make you feel good.

  • Self-Compassion Helps Healing. Self-compassion means being there for yourself when suffering. You're likely to meet others with compassion, comfort, kindness and understanding, especially after an allergic reaction. Therefore, self-compassion means acting the same way towards yourself when you're having a difficult time. It also means judging and criticizing yourself less, which can feel hard after an allergic reaction.

More Tools to Help You After Anaphylaxis


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