What is an Allergic Reaction?
Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system, our natural defense mechanism against foreign invaders which can cause infections and illnesses.
However, the immune system will also defend the body from substances that typically do not represent a threat like pollen, pet dandruff, and dust mites, these substances are known as allergens, when the immune system reacts to these it can cause an allergic reaction.
Allergens can be inhaled, eaten, or touched by an individual, sometimes the allergen is injected into the person through an insect bite or sting. Regardless of how it happens, the immune system activates and tries to fight off these substances, this overreaction is what causes an allergic reaction.
Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe and life-threatening, mild allergic reactions can be safely treated at home with the use of an anti-histamine, more severe allergic reactions especially those that result in anaphylaxis require immediate emergency medical treatment.
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Causes of Allergic Reactions
Allergic reactions are different for everybody, reaction time varies significantly from one individual to another, it could take a few minutes to a few hours or days for the symptoms to manifest.
Most adults are aware of allergic triggers and reactions, but, the immune system can overreact to a familiar substance at any time.
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- Food Allergens: There are over 160 allergenic foods, the most common are peanuts, shellfish, strawberries, and wheat.
- Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis: Commonly known as hay fever is caused by pollen from trees, grasses, weeds, or mold spores.
- Vaccines and Medications: Some antibiotics like penicillin and amoxicillin are known to cause allergic reactions in some patients, as does aspirin, ibuprofen, and general or local anesthesia.
- Insect Bites and Stings: Bees stings and fire ant bites can trigger severe allergic reactions, other insects such as mosquitos can trigger mild allergic reactions.
- Dust, Pet Dandruff, Detergents, Latex, and Cosmetics: These common substances are well-known allergens.
- Psychological Triggers: Stress and emotional unease can contribute to allergic reactions.
- Sun and Temperature Changes: As strange as it may sound some people are allergic to the sun, this is known as “sun poisoning”. Changes in temperature, going from hot to cold or vice versa can trigger an allergic reaction in some individuals.
How to Prevent Allergic Reactions
Preventing allergic reactions depends on the type of allergy, but, general measures include:
- Avoid Known Triggers
- Inform People: If you have a food allergy you should let your friends, family, classmates, teachers, or co-workers know.
- Wear a Medical Alert Bracelet: This is essential for individuals who have severe allergies to food, insect bites or medication, it could help save their lives.
Allergic Reaction Symptoms
Allergic reaction symptoms will vary depending on the cause, they can affect the airways, nasal passages, eyes, skin, and digestive system.
Symptoms of Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis
- Itching of the nose, throat, or roof of the mouth
- Runny, stuffy nose
- Watery, red, or swollen eyes
Symptoms of Food Allergies
- Tingling in the mouth
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, face, or throat
Symptoms of Insect Sting Allergies
- Swelling at the sting site
- Itching or hives all over the body
- A cough, chest tightness, wheezing or shortness of breath
Symptoms of Allergy to Medications
- Itchy skin
- Swelling of the face
Symptoms of Anaphylaxis
In the event of an anaphylactic shock, the patient must receive immediate emergency medical treatment, or they risk dying.
- Loss of consciousness
- Decreased blood pressure
- Severe shortness of breath
- Skin rash
- A rapid, weak pulse
- Nausea and Vomiting
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When to Go to
- Patients who have a history of severe allergic reactions should go to the emergency room as soon as they feel an allergic reaction developing.
- Patients with anaphylaxis should be rushed to the ER.
- If symptoms don’t improve even after taking medication, you need to go to the ER.
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