Choosing Wisely:

Don’t rely on antihistamines as firstline treatment in severe allergic reactions.

Rationale and Comments: Epinephrine is the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis. Data indicate that antihistamines are overused as the first-line treatment of anaphylaxis. By definition, anaphylaxis has cardiovascular and respiratory manifestations, which require treatment with epinephrine. Overuse of antihistamines, which do not treat cardiovascular or respiratory manifestations of anaphylaxis, can delay the effective first-line treatment with epinephrine. Epinephrine should be administered as soon as the diagnosis of anaphylaxis is suspected. Antihistamines are second-line supportive therapy for cutaneous non–life-threatening symptoms (hives), but do not replace epinephrine as the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis. Fatalities during anaphylaxis have been associated with delayed administration of epinephrine.
Sponsoring Organizations:
  • American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
  • Sources:
  • American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology guidelines
  • Disciplines:
  • Allergy and immunologic
  • Emergency medicine
  • References: • Lieberman P, Nicklas RA, Oppenheimer J, Kemp SF, Lang DM, Bernstein DI, Bernstein JA, Burks AW, Feldweg AM, Fink JN, Greenberger PA, Golden DB, James JM, Kemp SF, Ledford DK, Lieberman P, Sheffer AL, Bernstein DI, Blessing-Moore J, Cox L, Khan DA, Lang D, Nicklas RA, Oppenheimer J, Portnoy JM, Randolph C, Schuller DE, Spector SL, Tilles S, Wallace D. The diagnosis and management of anaphylaxis practice parameter 2010 update. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2010 Sep;126(3):477-80.e1–42.
    • Sampson HA, Muñoz-Furlong A, Campbell RL, Adkinson NF Jr, Bock SA, Branum A, Brown SG, Camargo CA Jr, Cydulka R, Galli SJ, Gidudu J, Gruchalla RS, Harlor AD Jr, Hepner DL, Lewis LM, Lieberman PL, Metcalfe DD, O’Connor R, Muraro A, Rudman A, Schmitt C, Scherrer D, Simons FE, Thomas S, Wood JP, Decker WW. Second symposium on the definition and management of anaphylaxis: summary report – Second National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/ Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network symposium. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006 Feb;117(2):391–7.
    • Kemp SF, Lockey RF, Simons FE; World Allergy Organization ad hoc Committee on Epinephrine in Anaphylaxis. Epinephrine the drug of choice for anaphylaxis. A statement of the World Allergy Organization. Allergy. 2008 Aug;63(8):1061–70.
    • Cox L, Nelson H, Lockey R, Calabria C, Chacko T, Finegold I, Nelson M, Weber R, Bernstein DI, Blessing-Moore J, Khan DA, Lang DM, Nicklas RA, Oppenheimer J, Portnoy JM, Randolph C, Schuller DE, Spector SL, Tilles S, Wallace D. Allergen immunotherapy: a practice parameter third update. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011 Jan;127(1 Suppl):s1–55.
    • Golden DB, Moffitt J, Nicklas RA, Freeman T, Graft DF, Reisman RE, Tracy JM, Bernstein D, Blessing-Moore J, Cox L, Khan DA, Lang DM, Oppenheimer J, Portnoy JM, Randolph C, Schuller DE, Spector SL, Tilles SA, Wallace D; Joint Task Force on Practice Parameters; American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI); American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI); Joint Council of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Stinging insect hypersensitivity: a practice parameter update 2011. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011 Apr; 127(4):852–4.
    • Clark S, Long AA, Gaeta TJ, Camargo CC. Multicenter study of emergency department visits for insect sting allergies. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2005;116:643–9.

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