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Severe, immediate, potentially fatal bodily reaction to contact with a substance (antigen) to which the individual has previously been exposed. Often triggered by antiserum, antibiotics, or insect stings, the reaction's symptoms include skin flushing, bronchial swelling (with difficulty breathing), and loss of consciousness. Shock may follow. Milder cases may involve hives and severe headache. Treatment, consisting of injection of epinephrine, followed by antihistamines, cortisone, or similar drugs, must begin within minutes. Anaphylaxis may be caused by extremely small amounts of antigen.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on anaphylaxis, visit Britannica.com.