Allergic shocks rise 700 per cent in 20 years

The number of people admitted to hospital with life threatening anaphylactic shock – involving sudden swelling, breathlessness and low blood pressure – has increased by at least 700 per cent in the last two decades.

Anaphylaxis is often triggered by an allergy, such as to bee stings or peanuts. The numbers of people affected by allergies have trebled in the past 20 years and it is estimated that a third of the population will develop an allergy at some point in their lives.

The first guidelines for treating the condition, published today by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), say doctors should record the circumstances immediately before the reaction to help identify the cause and ensure an adrenaline injector is given to patients after emergency treatment. Patients can then give themselves a shot of adrenaline, which may be life saving in the event of another attack.

Anaphylaxis causes around 20 deaths a year in otherwise healthy people from heart attack or suffocation caused by swelling of the tissues in the mouth and throat. Around 50,000 people in England suffer an anaphylactic attack over the course of their lifetime, according to NICE. Hospital admissions for the condition increased from 300 a year in 1990 to more than 2,100 in 2004, a seven-fold increase, and are likely to have risen further since.

Fergus Macbeth, director of the Centre for Clinical Practice at NICE said: "After an anaphylactic episode, there is often a risk of it happening again. Further investigation is therefore needed in all cases to try to identify the cause and assess the risk of the person having another anaphylactic reaction."