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When Is an Allergic Reaction More Than an Itchy Annoyance?

When Is an Allergic Reaction More Than an Itchy Annoyance?

When Is an Allergic Reaction More Than an Itchy Annoyance?

Spring has sprung, and that means blooming flowers, blossoming trees, and buzzing of the bees. It’s a beautiful season and one we welcome with open arms after a long Wyoming winter. But if you suffer from allergies, this time of the year can be super irritating. From a sneezing, runny nose, to itchy, watery eyes, allergies are annoying.

However, some allergic reactions can quickly go from a minor annoyance to a serious situation. Knowing the signs of a severe allergic reaction can help you stay ready for a potential medical emergency.

Why an Allergic Reaction Happens

Your immune system works hard to defend you. Sometimes, it gets slightly overactive. When a normally harmless substance — such as pollen, bee venom, or pet dander — enters your body, your well-meaning immune system can overreact and mistake it for a dangerous invader.

When this happens, antibodies are produced and stay alert to wait for that particular allergen to appear again. If it does, the antibodies kick in and release a number of chemicals, including histamine, that cause an allergic reaction.

So even though an allergic reaction is no fun, it’s just one more way your body works to keep you protected and healthy.

The Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction

Allergies are common, with more than 50 million people in the U.S. experiencing an allergic reaction each year. Allergy symptoms and the severity of a reaction can look very different from person to person. Some people may experience cold-like symptoms, while others experience more severe symptoms. The type of allergen you're exposed to and the amount can determine your symptoms.

For example, allergens you breathe in can cause an itchy nose and throat, coughing, and wheezing. Allergens that get near the eyes can make them itchy, watery, red, and swollen. Allergens that touch the skin can cause a rash, hives, itching, blisters, and peeling.

Some common allergens and their potential reactions include:

  • Hay fever, animal dander, dust mites, and pollen: sneezing; itchy nose, eyes or roof of the mouth; runny or stuffy nose; watery, red, or swollen eyes
  • Food allergies, especially nuts, fish, and shellfish: tingling in the mouth; swelling of the lips, tongue, face, or throat; hives
  • Insect stings: large area of swelling at the sting site; itching or hives; cough; chest tightness, wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Medicines: Hives, itchy skin, rash, facial swelling, wheezing

Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe, and can last anywhere from a few minutes to several days. In serious cases, allergies can trigger a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.

The Dangers of Anaphylaxis

After exposure to an allergen, the immune system kicks in a second time to attempt to protect your body. Sometimes, during this second round of defense the flood of chemicals released can cause the body to go into shock, drop your blood pressure, and block your airways. This reaction is known as anaphylaxis and is a severe, life-threatening condition.

There’s no time to waste when anaphylaxis occurs. Without treatment, anaphylaxis can quickly worsen and lead to death. Call 911 immediately if anaphylaxis is suspected. If you carry an epinephrine auto-injector, give yourself a shot right away.

Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • A drop in blood pressure
  • A rapid, weak pulse
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Skin rash

What to do if Anaphylaxis Occurs

If a life-threatening allergic reaction happens to someone nearby, there are steps you can take that could help save their life:

  1. Call 911
  2. Check their airway, breathing, and circulation. If necessary, begin CPR.
  3. If they are conscious, calm and reassure the person. Anxiety can make symptoms feel worse.
  4. If the allergic reaction is from a bee sting, scrape the stinger off the skin with something firm (such as a fingernail or plastic credit card). Don’t use tweezers because squeezing the stinger will release more venom.
  5. If the person has injectable emergency allergy medicine, like epinephrine, administer it at the beginning of a reaction. Don’t wait to see if the reaction gets worse.
  6. Take steps to prevent shock. Have the person lie flat, raise the person's feet about 12 inches, and cover them with a coat or blanket to keep them warm if they feel cold.

Can You Prevent Allergic Reactions?

While most allergies can't be cured, there are ways to avoid them and manage the symptoms.

Allergies run in the family. If you have a family history of allergies, such as hay fever, hives, or eczema, your risk of developing allergies of your own increases. Children are at a greater risk, and people living with asthma or another allergic condition are more likely to develop allergies.

When you identify the allergens that could potentially cause you to react, you can take steps to avoid triggers and keep yourself free from itchy irritations and potential dangers. For instance, if you're allergic to pollen, stay inside with windows and doors closed when pollen is high. For food and ingredient-specific allergies, always check labels before purchasing foods and alert your server before ordering food at a restaurant.

Writing down your activities, what you eat, when symptoms occur, and the treatments that ease your symptoms can help you identify causes, triggers, and amplifiers, ultimately helping you avoid any type of reaction.

If you've had a severe allergic reaction in the past, a medical alert bracelet (or necklace) lets others know that you have a serious allergy in case you have a reaction and can’t communicate.

Allergies happen at any age and in every season. But knowing your triggers, what steps to take to prevent them, and how to spot symptoms and a severe reaction, can all help you breathe easier and feel healthier this spring.

If you need relief from your allergies or just want to learn more about your risk for allergic reactions, the experts at MHSC have the answers you need. Find a provider today.