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Chem Immunol Allergy. 2010;95:1-11. doi: 10.1159/000315934. Epub 2010 Jun 1.

History and classification of anaphylaxis.

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  • 1Department of Dermatology and Allergy Biederstein, ZAUM - Zentrum Allergie und Umwelt, Helmholtz Zentrum München/Technische Universität München, Munich, Germany. johannes.ring@lrz.tum.de


Anaphylaxis as the maximal variant of an acute systemic hypersensitivity reaction can involve several organ systems, particularly the skin, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract and the cardiovascular system. The severity of anaphylactic reaction is variable and can be classified into severity grades I-IV. Some reactions are fatal. Most frequent elicitors of anaphylaxis are foods in childhood, later insect stings and drugs. The phenomenon itself has been described in ancient medical literature, but was actually recognized and named at the beginning of the 20th century by Charles Richet and Paul Portier. In the course of experiments starting on the yacht of the Prince of Monaco and continued in the laboratory in Paris, they tried to immunize dogs with extracts of Physalia species in an attempt to develop an antitoxin to the venom of the Portuguese man-of-war. While Charles Richet believed that anaphylaxis was a 'lack of protection', it has become clear that an exaggerated immune reaction, especially involving immunoglobulin E antibodies, is the underlying pathomechanism in allergic anaphylaxis besides immune complex reactions. Non-immunologically mediated reactions leading to similar clinical symptomatology have been called 'anaphylactoid' or 'pseudo-allergic'--especially by Paul Kallos--and are now called 'non-immune anaphylaxis' according to a consensus of the World Allergy Organization (WAO). The distinction of different pathophysiological processes is important since non-immune anaphylaxis cannot be detected by skin test or in vitro allergy diagnostic procedures. History and provocation tests are crucial. The intensity of the reaction is not only influenced by the degree of sensitization but also by concomitant other factors as age, simultaneous exposure to other allergens, underlying infection, physical exercise or psychological stress or concomitant medication (e.g. beta-blockers, NSAIDs); this phenomenon has been called augmentation or summation anaphylaxis.

Copyright 2010 S. Karger AG, Basel.

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