This is the first multi-centre retrospective survey from the United Kingdom to evaluate the aetiology and diagnostic performance of tryptase in anaphylaxis during general anaesthesia (GA). Data were collected retrospectively (2005–12) from 161 patients [mean ± standard deviation (s.d.), 50 ± 15 years] referred to four regional UK centres. Receiver operating characteristic curves (ROC) were constructed to assess the utility of tryptase measurements in the diagnosis of immunoglobulin (Ig)E-mediated anaphylaxis and the performance of percentage change from baseline [percentage change (PC)] and absolute tryptase (AT) quantitation. An IgE-mediated cause was identified in 103 patients (64%); neuromuscular blocking agents (NMBA) constituted the leading cause (38%) followed by antibiotics (8%), patent blue dye (6%), chlorhexidine (5%) and other agents (7%). In contrast to previous reports, latex-induced anaphylaxis was rare (0·6%). A non-IgE-mediated cause was attributed in 10 patients (6%) and no cause could be established in 48 cases (30%). Three serial tryptase measurements were available in 34% of patients and a ROC analysis of area under the curve (AUC) showed comparable performance for PC and AT. A ≥ 80% PPV for identifying an IgE-mediated anaphylaxis was achieved with a PC of >141% or an AT of >15·7 mg/l. NMBAs were the leading cause of anaphylaxis, followed by antibiotics, with latex allergy being uncommon. Chlorhexidine and patent blue dye are emerging important health-care-associated allergens that may lead to anaphylaxis. An elevated acute serum tryptase (PC >141%, AT >15·7 mg/l) is highly predictive of IgE-mediated anaphylaxis, and both methods of interpretation are comparable.