Anaphylaxis with Angioedema

This case is written by Dr. Ahmed Taher. He is an Emergency Medicine resident at the University of Toronto and a Masters of Public Health Student at Johns Hopkins University. He developed his appreciation and excitement for simulation while previously employed as a Primary Care Paramedic for York Region EMS.

Why it Matters

Anaphylaxis is a fairly common presentation to the ED. However, it is rare to see truly severe anaphylaxis. This case exposes learners to the most feared complication of anaphylaxis – angioedema requiring surgical airway management. In particular, it highlights:

  • The importance of initiating early treatment for anaphylaxis with epinephrine (and removing ongoing allergen exposure, if possible)
  • The need to intubate early in patients with signs of airway compromise not immediately responding to epinephrine
  • The fact that the “decision to cut” is crucial (and arguably the most challenging part of a surgical airway)
  • The steps required for a successful cricothyrotomy

Clinical Vignette

You are working a night shift at your local Emergency Department. You are called STAT to the bedside of a patient in the department who was seen by your colleague earlier and has recently been started on IV ceftriaxone for a pyelonephritis. You recall from handover that this is a 45-year-old previously healthy female patient with a diagnosis of a UTI two weeks ago, who returned after failing treatment and was diagnosed with pyelonephritis today. The nurse tells you she started the IV antibiotics and fluids 20 min ago, and then started to experience respiratory distress and a full body rash.

Case Summary

A 45-year-old patient who has already been seen in the ED begins treatment for pyelonephritis with IV antibiotics. Soon after initiated, she develops stridor and respiratory distress, as part of an anaphylactic reaction. The team is called into the room to assess the patient. After standard anaphylaxis treatment is given, the airway is still of concern. Intubation attempts are not successful and the patient will need a surgical airway.

Download the case here: Anaphylaxis with Angioedema

ECG for the case found here:


(ECG source:

CXR for the case found here:

normal female CXR radiopedia

(CXR source:

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