anaphylaxis (ănˌəfəlăkˈsĭs) [key], hypersensitive state that may develop after introduction of a foreign protein or other antigen into the body tissues. When an anaphylactic state exists, a second dose of the same protein (commonly an antibiotic such as penicillin, or certain insect venoms) will cause a violent allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis results from the production of specific antibodies in the tissues in very high concentration; the violent reaction is produced by the neutralization of antigens by the antibodies. The histamines released during the reaction are thought to cause the most damage, i.e., severe vasodilation and loss of capillary fluid, resulting in circulatory collapse. Other symptoms include urticaria or edema, choking, coughing, shock, and loss of consciousness. Death may occur within 5 to 10 min if no medical help is available. Anaphylaxis differs from immunity; in immunity, antibodies circulate in the blood and neutralize antigens without producing a violent reaction. See also allergy; serum sickness.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.