What You Should Know About Allergic Reactions
Allergies and allergic reactions are very common, often drastically ranging in symptoms and severity based on the allergen, genetics and your body’s natural response. When you are exposed to an allergen that your immune system sees as a threat, your body will react to protect you from what it thinks is harming you, causing allergic reaction symptoms. These allergens could be pollen, pets, foods, chemicals, or even medications. Knowing the signs of an allergic reaction and when it’s time to seek medical help is very important and could potentially save your life or that of someone you love. If you are unsure if you might be allergic to a substance, consider making an appointment with a local allergist who can help you identify your triggers safely and provide you with treatment options.
What are the different types of allergic reactions?
Depending on the substance the individual has been exposed to, allergic reaction symptoms can develop in many forms and affect different areas of the body. In severe cases, allergens can trigger a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.
What is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a rare, life-threatening reaction to an allergen to which the body has become hypersensitive. Most allergic reactions don’t result in anaphylaxis, but it’s important to know the signs, as this condition can be fatal. An anaphylactic reaction can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to something to which an individual is highly allergic. When anaphylaxis begins, the brain releases a flood of chemicals that start to shut down the body’s natural processes and can cause the sufferer to go into shock very rapidly.
Because anaphylaxis is rapid and life-threatening, an injection of epinephrine is essential to relax the constricted muscles around the airways and in the lungs. This injection prevents the airway from closing for a short time until the individual can be transported to an emergency room for further care. It is important to seek emergency medical care after receiving the injection because it’s possible for the recipient to have a second severe allergic reaction after the medication has worn off. If you do not have an emergency epinephrine injection, seek emergency medical help or call 911 immediately.
Symptoms of Anaphylaxis include:
- Skin reactions, including hives, itching and flushing or pale skin
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
- Constriction of airways
- A weak and rapid pulse
- Wheezing and trouble breathing caused by a swollen tongue or throat
- Severe shortness of breath
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- Dizziness or fainting
- Loss of consciousness
If you think you or someone you know is experiencing anaphylaxis administer an epinephrine injection and seek emergency medical help immediately.
Often referred to as seasonal allergies or Hay Fever, allergic rhinitis occurs when the immune system overacts to allergens in the air, such as dust, pollen, dander and mold. This allergic reaction is widespread and affects more than 50 million Americans each year.
Symptoms of Hay Fever include:
- Itchy nose, eyes, or roof of the mouth
- Runny, stuffy nose
- Watery, red or swollen eyes (conjunctivitis)
Hay Fever can typically be treated with over-the-counter allergy medications, but if your symptoms become more severe, or if you have a child suffering from Hay Fever, you should see your doctor about additional or alternative treatment options.
Food allergies are caused by the overreaction of the immune system to certain foods it identifies as a threat. While triggers, symptoms and the severity of the reaction can vary from person to person, allergic reactions can sometimes be triggered by exposure to only a small amount of the food allergen. While some may experience mild or uncomfortable symptoms, others may have an allergic reaction that is far more frightening, painful and even life-threatening.
Common symptoms of a Food Allergy include:
- Tingling or itching in the mouth
- Hives, itching or eczema
- Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat or other parts of the body
- Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
Some mild food reactions can be treated with an over-the-counter antihistamine. If the symptoms are more moderate than mild, avoid exposure to the food that triggered the response and make an appointment with your doctor. If your symptoms begin to worsen or become severe, try to stay calm and seek medical help immediately.
Insect Sting Allergy:
While it’s normal for the body to react to insect stings, there is a distinct difference between a normal insect sting reaction and an allergic insect sting reaction. The most common insect stings in the United States come from wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, honeybees and in the southern US, red and black fire ants. A typical reaction will result in pain, swelling, redness and itching confined to the sting site while an allergic reaction will cause symptoms outside of or include an extensive area around or near the sting site. A typical insect sting on the arm should not produce severe pain and swelling of the whole limb.
Common symptoms of an insect sting allergy include:
- Swelling (in are of sting and sometimes beyond)
Although many insect sting allergic reaction symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter topical and oral medications, it’s vital that you seek medical help if you are experiencing any severe symptoms or believe you may be experiencing anaphylaxis.
Any medication, including over-the-counter, prescription, oral, topical or herbal is capable of triggering a drug allergy. A drug allergy is not the same as a drug side effect or drug toxicity. Drug side effects are known possible reactions and can be found listed on the drug label; an overdose of the medication causes drug toxicity; and a drug allergy is the body’s immune system overacting to the medication.
Common symptoms of a drug allergy include:
- Skin Rash
- Shortness of breath
- Runny nose
- Itchy, watery eyes
If you think you may be having an allergic reaction to a medication, stop taking the medication immediately and call your doctor. If your symptoms worsen or become severe, seek emergency medical help immediately.
Allergic reactions of any severity can happen at any time. Medco ER & Urgent Care is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and patients can usually be seen by a physician within minutes. With facilities in Plano and Frisco, you can rest assured that help is right around the corner should an allergic reaction occur. Our board-certified physicians and highly-trained nurses are prepared to help you in any situation at any time. If you think you may be having an allergic reaction, please call our Frisco location at 469.392.4100, our Plano location at 469.392.4000, or walk-in at any time.