What to Do During an Allergic Reaction

What to Do During an Allergic Reaction

Allergic reactions or allergies can pop up at any time. You don’t have to be a lifelong allergy sufferer to suddenly find you are having an allergic reaction to something that previously hasn’t affected you. Many allergies are treated easily with over-the-counter medications, and do little more damage than cause discomfort for as long as they last. Other allergies are more serious, and in the most extreme cases can be fatal, if they are not treated promptly.

Knowing the difference, and knowing what to do during an allergic reaction, can bring quick relief from symptoms, or even save a life.

What Are Allergies?

We become allergic or have an allergic reaction when our body’s immune systems identify certain substances as harmful. It’s the immune system’s function to protect us from foreign bodies by creating antibodies. These fight off infections so we can recover from ailments such as colds or flu.

When the immune system becomes over vigilant, it can identify common substances such as pollen or pet dander as being more dangerous than they are. Other common allergens include milk or wheat products, strawberries, shellfish, peanuts and bee venom.

Peanuts and bee venom allergies can be particularly dangerous, while pollen and related allergies are generally unpleasant but not life threatening.

The most dangerous allergic reaction, such as that sometimes caused by peanuts and bee venom, is anaphylaxis  (or anaphylactic shock), which can cause respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.

Recognizing an Allergic Reaction

Allergy symptoms vary from person to person and can cause various reactions:

  • Rashes
  • Hives
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Swelling
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Itching
  • Sneezing

More serious allergic reactions are those that indicate anaphylaxis. These include:

  • Nausea
  • A weak pulse
  • Lightheadedness
  • Swelling of the airways
  • Difficulty breathing

Left untreated the symptoms can lead to loss of consciousness and can eventually prove fatal. Anaphylaxis requires urgent medical treatment.

Treating Anaphylaxis

The only drug that can reverse the symptoms of anaphylactic shock is Epinephrine, which is generally administered via an auto injector.

Those who know they are at risk of such a severe allergic reaction should always carry a medical kit with them, which will include the auto-injector. It should be used at the first sign of an allergic reaction. Epinephrine is considered a safe drug, even for the elderly or those who have heart disease since the risk from the allergic reaction is far greater.

Once Epinephrine has been injected, either call 911 or take the patient to the emergency room in case further treatment is needed. Possible further treatments include:

  • Asthma medication to help relieve and resolve breathing problems
  • Steroids such as cortisone to reduce inflammation
  • Antihistamines to further help control and reduce reactions

None of these further treatments should be seen as a substitute for Epinephrine, which should always be the first course of action in an emergency.

Treating Minor Allergic Reactions

Many over-the-counter medications can be safely used at home to treat more minor allergic reactions, and these include antihistamines and decongestants.

Medications come in various forms including eye drops, nasal sprays and tablets, creams or gels.

Long-term allergies such as hay fever and reactions to animal dander or dust mites can be treated with long-acting antihistamines which are available over-the-counter. They’re safe to use for months at a time and are usually taken once a day. Decongestant nasal sprays can help to relieve symptoms such as a runny nose or sinus pain. They are not, however, intended for continuous use over more than a few days as they can have side effects, including high blood pressure.

Up to 70% of Americans develop allergic reactions to poisonous plants such as poison oak, poison sumac and poison ivy. Avoid scratching, but take a cool shower if possible to soothe irritation, then apply colloidal oatmeal products or a hydrocortisone cream. Oral steroids or creams may be needed if symptoms are severe, and your doctor can prescribe these.

Jellyfish stings ruin many a day at the beach and can cause allergic reactions. Bathing the sting area in seawater for 30 minutes can help neutralize the toxin, with hydrocortisone cream and/or an antihistamine to follow.

Avoiding Future Reactions

Unexpected allergic reactions should always be investigated to determine the source since many common household products contain fragrances or dyes that can cause skin irritations. The information leaflet inside the package should indicate if this is a possibility.

Carefully reading the labels on food packaging can help you avoid allergic reactions. Packaged and processed foods often contain unexpected ingredients that can cause mild to severe reactions.

As mentioned at the beginning, allergies can appear at any time, even if you’ve never experienced an allergic reactions before. Keeping a stock of over-the-counter topical treatments such as pain relievers and antihistamines which will help you ward off mild symptoms as soon as they occur. If you are experiencing an allergic reaction please visit the closest emergency room. SignatureCare Emergency Center has 4 locations in the Houston area. You can also schedule an appointment to see one of our doctors. Our Emergency Rooms typically have little or no wait and our ERs are open 24/7.

By SignatureCare ER | May 18th, 2016 | Categories: General, Health & Wellness

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