Prophylactic and Anaphylactic are easily confused words.
The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary, but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted, or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.
Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.
Prophylactic (pronounced “pro-fuh-lack-tihck”) has multiple meanings.
As an adjective: It is a medicine/pharmaceutical word. It describes the role of a drug or device as preventing disease spreading between people.
For example, condoms are a prophylactic device originally intended to prevent the spread of sexually-transmitted (aka venereal) diseases and pregnancy. Modern condoms are made of latex or similar materials. They are flexible, but not indestructible. They can rupture or have holes poked in them. A condom with a hole in it, or that has been removed during sexual activity, has lost all its intended effectiveness.
An example of a prophylactic drugs are the antibiotics a person takes before getting dental surgery.
As a noun, it means a preventive drug or device.
Anaphylactic (pronounced “anna-fuh-lack-tihck”) is an adjective. It is a physiology word. It describes things related to anaphylaxis, which is an extreme allergic response in the body to a foreign protein. Anaphylaxis can lead to death.
For example, some people are allergic to bee stings. If he/she is stung by a bee, it’s not a brief discomfort and a small skin sore. Instead, their body experiences anaphylactic response. His/her body’s histamine overreacts, causing swelling all over, chest tightening, lightheadedness. His/her throat closes and restricts breathing. Usually it takes a dose of epinephrine (like an epi-pen shot) to stop an anaphylactic response.
The following story uses both words correctly:
The allergist returned with Phet’s file.
“Well we’ve run the tests Ms. Peterson. Phet is allergic to peanuts. Peanut foods and peanut oils are all not recommended in his diet and need to avoided at all costs.”
“But, but they’re in all kinds of food, American and Thai. Isn’t there a prophylactic prescription that would prevent any reactions?“
“No ma’am. I am afraid you and he have to be vigilant about his diet. I am giving you a prescription for an epinephrine pen as a last resort should he eat accidentally anything with peanuts. It will stop anaphylactic shock.“
Phet would have a frustrating childhood because he couldn’t eat everything his friends did. He would sing songs at school or summer camp about peanut butter, but he couldn’t eat it. Not being able to eat ordinary kid food left him feeling more than a little left out.
An unforgettable night came unexpectedly when the family went out to dinner. They asked for peanut-free dishes. Their server consulted the kitchen and made the best suggestions they could. When it was time for dinner to arrive, everyone else got their food but Phet.
Then the chef came out and set the plate before Phet. He smiled at Phet’s wide-eyed face and said, “I made this just for you, so I hope you like it.” It was a dish of rice noodles and vegetables chopped to look like flowers.
For once, Phet didn’t feel embarrassed about his situation. he felt special. He looked up into the chef’s smiling face and said, “Thank you!”
“Thank you so much!” said Ms. Peterson. “That looks delicious, Phet.”
It was. Phet realized he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. He wanted to make people happy with food.