How Does an EMT Treat Anaphylaxis?

If you are just beginning your journey as an emergency medical services (EMS) professional, understanding allergic reactions is a critical part of your job. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) may have to treat emergencies involving extreme allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis. EMTs treat anaphylaxis by evaluating the patient, managing the airway, and usually administer an EpiPen or use alternative emergency interventions in a prehospital setting.

Whether preparing for a paramedic medication test or learning about medications EMTs are authorized to administer, it’s important to understand the medications available to you as an EMS professional. For example, you need to know if a basic EMT can give nitroglycerin and why paramedics give aspirin for chest pain.

What Is Anaphylaxis?

‘Anaphylaxis’ is the proper medical term for any type of severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. This condition can sometimes occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to an allergen. Anaphylaxis can be fatal if unrecognized and untreated.

There are four types of anaphylactic reactions, ranging from Type I, which involves inflammation and swelling all the way to Type IV, which can include respiratory or circulatory arrest.

Anaphylaxis can be caused by allergic reactions to food, insects, pollen, medications, and latex.

Signs of Anaphylaxis

There are several signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, including:

  • Respiratory system: Patients may exhibit symptoms relating to their upper airway, such as coughing and hoarseness when speaking. They may also show symptoms in the lower airway, such as wheezing and diminished breath sounds.
  • Integumentary (skin) system: Patients may experience itching, hives, or patchy skin reddening.
  • Nervous system: Patients may exhibit anxiety or restlessness, headaches, dizziness, and even seizures.
  • Cardiovascular system: This includes hypotension, chest pain, and decreased cardiac output.
  • Gastrointestinal system: This can include vomiting, diarrhea, and severe cramping in the abdominal area.

Emergency Management of Anaphylaxis 

While these symptoms can range in severity, it’s important to remember that most of the anaphylaxis cases EMTs respond to are acute or severe. The main goal of a response to an anaphylactic emergency is to reverse the effects of the chemical mediators‒the chemical agent that takes an active part in the development of an inflammatory response.

Step One: Evaluate

When you arrive at the emergency scene, you need to check the patient’s vital signs and symptoms to determine the severity of the reaction. Ask them if they have a history of severe allergic reactions if they have known allergies, including medications. Also, ask if they have known allergies to any medications, even if the allergic reaction was not caused by a medication‒you don’t want to administer a drug that could make things worse!

Step Two: Manage the Airway

Determine if the airway needs management, such as applying an oxygen mask or assisting with ventilations.

Step Three: Administer Epinephrine If Necessary

EMTs and paramedics can administer epinephrine‒a medication and hormone used to open airways, maintain heart function, and maintain blood pressure. EMTs are typically authorized to administer epinephrine using an auto-injector. 

You should hold the injector against the anterolateral thigh for at least ten seconds to confirm that all the medication has been delivered. Then, observe and record the patient’s vital signs and reactions.

Step Four: Assess Alternative Emergency Interventions

EMS professionals can use other tools and interventions if the epinephrine injection is ineffective. However, they can be very invasive, such as endotracheal intubation, which involves placing a flexible, plastic tube into the patient’s trachea to maintain an open airway or administer certain drugs in an emergency.

Preparing for a career as an EMT can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. With our Prescription Medications Mastery Course, you can confidently respond to anaphylaxis calls and save lives. Check out our Video Vault today for more information!

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