Overview of an Allergic Reaction
Allergic Reaction Symptoms
The job of the immune system is to protect your body from substances that may hurt it; however, when it decides to protect it from something it should not, such as eggs or peanuts, then that is called an allergic reaction. These allergens can be inhaled, eaten, or even touched. Allergies can often be inherited, so if you have a family member with allergies, you are more at risk to have allergies too. Some common symptoms of allergies include: hives, itching, nasal congestion, rash, scratchy throat, watery eyes, or even more serious through chest pain, diarrhea, etc.
Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction
Symptoms for allergic reactions will differ with each different allergen and which body part it affects. Some reactions may be limited to one area, while others may have a whole body reaction. Reactions can affect:
- Skin – Itching, redness, irritation, swelling, blisters, rash, hives or crusting
- Eyes – Red, watery, itchy, or swollen
- Nose – Stuffy, runny, or sneezing
- Head – Swelling, hoarseness of voice or headache
- Lungs – Wheezing, cough, shortness of breath, or chest tightness
- Stomach – Nausea, pain, vomiting, diarrhea
- Other – Dizziness, lightheadedness, sore throat, fatigue
Anaphylaxis occurs when multiple symptoms occur rapidly. This reaction can be life-threatening and needs immediate treatment. Some symptoms to watch for in anaphylaxis are shock. Shock means that the organs are not receiving enough blood because of low blood pressure. You may notice the person turns pale or red, becomes sweaty or dry, and is confused, anxious or even unconscious. The person may also have difficulty breathing, and it may be very noisy.
Causes of an Allergic Reaction
Almost anything can trigger an allergic reaction. There are more than 160 foods that can trigger an allergic reaction alone. Some allergies are categorized as seasonal, as they only occur during certain times of the year. Other triggers can include: medications, insect stings, pollen, mold, pets, cosmetics, or metal.
Risk Factors of an Allergic Reaction
You are at a higher risk for an allergic reaction if you have a history of severe allergic reactions, sensitive skin, frequent infections of the sinuses, ears or respiratory tract, asthma, lung conditions, or nasal polyps. Often times, you are at a higher risk for an allergic reaction if there is also a family history of allergic reactions.
Complications of an Allergic Reaction
Allergic reactions can be very dangerous; especially when they are sudden and severe. In these emergency cases, being seen by a physician is mandatory. Some serious symptoms to look out for are exposure to an allergen that has previously caused a reaction, swelling of the face, wheezing, confusion, vomiting, hives, etc.
Prevention of an Allergic Reaction
The best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid the allergen. The first to avoiding the allergen is to know what you are allergic too. Keep a journal and note what causes a reaction, when it happens, and what the symptoms are. When you see your allergist, be sure to show him the journal and discuss what you are experiencing. To confirm a diagnosis, the allergist may require further testing. If you are unable to prevent the allergen, then discuss with your allergist what steps may be taken in case of a reaction.
Diagnosis of an Allergic Reaction
There are a few options for diagnosing an allergic reaction. During the first step of a diagnosis, your allergist will begin to ask you a series of questions about your symptoms and the timing of them occurring. You may be asked to keep a log if you are not able to determine what is causing them. To confirm a diagnosis, a blood test or x-ray is rarely needed.
Treatment of an Allergic Reaction
The best treatment for an allergic reaction is to remove the allergen. Once the allergen is removed, then you will be able to treat the symptoms. The best way to determine an allergen is through a skin test. Blood tests may be administered if you are not able to come into contact with allergens.
In mild symptoms, antihistamines are the best treatment to soothe symptoms. For rashes or reactions on the skin, a hydrocortisone cream may be prescribed. Allergy eye drops can help with itchy or watery eyes. Mild symptoms can typically be treated at home. If symptoms do not go away within two weeks, it is best to schedule a time with your allergist to find relief.
In severe reactions, a dose an epinephrine may be administered, followed by a trip to the emergency room. Only in these extreme cases is oxygen or other extreme measures taken. Severe reactions may require hospitalization. When you meet with the physician at the hospital, the first step will be to determine how extreme the reaction is and then proper treatment will follow.
For long-term allergies, such as to pet dander or hay fever, long-acting antihistamines may be recommended. Some of these are available over-the-counter, but oftentimes, your allergist will prescribe them. Nasal corticosteroid sprays are often prescribed to help the symptoms that antihistamines do not relieve.
Allergy shots, or immunotherapy, may be administered to people who have consistent problems with allergy. Allergy shots are administered in a series, with each dose containing a little more of the allergen each time. They are given every 2-4 weeks for 2-5 years. The goal of the treatment is for the person to become desensitized to the allergen.
Summary of an Allergic Reaction
Almost anything can cause an allergic reaction. Allergens can include food, insects, cosmetics, metals, medicine, pollen, mold, animal dander, etc. Reactions will typically occur where the allergen came into contact with the body, such as on the skin, nose, mouth, eyes, lungs, etc. A proper diagnosis will begin with your allergist asking a series of questions about what you have experienced, when it happened and how long the symptoms last. To prevent an allergic reaction, it is best to avoid the allergen completely. The allergist may also order a skin test so you are positive about what to avoid. There are a variety of medications that can be prescribed to treat the symptoms. In serious cases of an allergic reaction, administer a dose of epinephrine and seek medical attention immediately. If the allergen is one that you come into contact with frequently, your allergist may recommend going through allergy shots.