Allergic reactions are sensitivities to substances called allergens that come into contact with the skin, nose, eyes, respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal tract. They can be Inhaled, Swallowed, or Injected.
Many allergic reactions are mild, while others can be severe and life threatening. They can be confined to a small area of the body, or they may affect the entire body. The most severe form is called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. Allergic reactions occur more often in people who have a family history of allergies.
Substances that don’t bother most people (such as venom from bee stings and certain foods, medicines, and pollens) can trigger allergic reactions in others.
First-time exposure may produce only a mild reaction. Repeated exposures may lead to more serious reactions. Once a person has had an exposure or an allergic reaction (is sensitized), it is possible that even a very limited exposure to a very small amount of allergen can trigger a severe reaction.
Most severe allergic reactions occur within seconds or minutes after exposure to the allergen. Some reactions can occur after several hours, particularly if the allergen causes a reaction after it has been eaten. In very rare cases, reactions develop after 24 hours.
Anaphylaxis is a sudden and severe allergic reaction that occurs within minutes of exposure. ***Immediate Medical attention is needed for this condition***Call 911***. Without treatment, anaphylaxis can get worse very quickly and lead to a potentially Life-Threatening Situation.
Common allergens include:
- Animal dander
- Bee stings or stings from other insects
- Foods, especially nuts, fish, and shellfish
- Insect bites
Common symptoms of a mild allergic reaction include:
- Hives (especially over the neck and face)
- Nasal congestion
- Watery, red eyes
Symptoms of a moderate or severe reaction include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abnormal (high-pitched) breathing sounds
- Chest discomfort or tightness
- Difficulty breathing, wheezing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Flushing or redness of the face
- Nausea or vomiting
- Swelling of the face, eyes, or tongue
For a mild to moderate reaction:
Calming and reassuring the patient having the reaction will help. In many cases anxiety can make symptoms worse.
Try to identify the allergen and have the person avoid further contact with it.
- If the person develops an itchy rash, apply cool compresses and an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.
- Watch the person for signs of increasing distress.
- Get medical help. For a mild reaction, a health care provider may recommend over-the-counter medicines, such as antihistamines.
For a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis):
***Immediate Medical attention is needed for this condition***Call 911***
- Calm and reassure the person.
- If the person has emergency allergy medicine on hand, help the person take or inject the medicine. Avoid oral medicine if the person is having difficulty breathing.
- Take steps to prevent shock. Have the person lie flat, raise the person’s feet about 12 inches (30 centimeters), and cover them with a coat or blanket. Do not place the person in this position if a head, neck, back, or leg injury is suspected or if it causes discomfort.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
***Call for Medical assistance (911) immediately if***:
- The person is having a Severe Allergic Reaction. Do not wait to see if the reaction is getting worse.
- The person has a history of Severe Allergic Reactions (check for a medical ID tag).
To prevent allergic reactions:
- Avoid triggers such as foods and medicines that have caused an allergic reaction in the past. Ask detailed questions about ingredients when you are eating away from home. Carefully check ingredient labels.
- If you have a child who is allergic to certain foods, introduce one new food at a time in small amounts so you can recognize an allergic reaction.
- People who have had serious allergic reactions should wear a medical ID tag and carry emergency medicines, such as a chewable form of chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), and injectable epinephrine or a bee sting kit. However, Do not use the injectable epinephrine on anyone else. They may have a condition, such as a heart problem, that could be made worse by this drug.
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