Allergies can lead to a medical emergency
With spring finally here, birds, bees and allergic reactions have all come out to play in the good weather. Care Flight would like to educate the public as to what they need to look for and do in case of an allergic reaction.
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that may involve the entire body. Anaphylaxis is a “systemic reaction,” which means that various parts of the body are affected that are a distance from the allergen’s initial entry site (e.g., a sting site for insects or the stomach for foods). It can result in trouble breathing, loss of consciousness and even death. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical treatment and follow up care by an allergist/immunologist.
Anaphylaxis can occur in some people after they are exposed to a substance to which they are severely allergic. The most common substances that trigger anaphylaxis are foods, medications, and insect stings. It has been estimated that up to 15 percent of the population is at risk for anaphylaxis.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis
Symptoms of anaphylaxis can vary from mild to severe and are potentially deadly. Possible symptoms that may occur alone or in any combination include:
— Skin: hives, swelling, itch, warmth, redness, rash
— Breathing: wheezing, shortness of breath, throat tightness, cough, hoarse voice, chest pain/tightness, nasal congestion/hay fever-like symptoms, trouble swallowing
— Stomach: nausea, pain or cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, itchy mouth/throat
— Circulation: pale/blue color, poor pulse, passing-out, dizzy/lightheaded, low blood pressure, shock
— Other: anxiety, feeling of “impending doom,” itchy or watery/red eyes, headache, cramping of the uterus eyes.
Reactions usually begin within minutes of exposure but may be delayed. Sometimes symptoms resolve, only to recur or progress a few hours later. The most dangerous symptoms are low blood pressure, breathing difficulties, shock and loss of consciousness, all of which can be fatal.
There are a variety of medical conditions that may mimic anaphylaxis. These include heart attacks, anxiety attacks, choking and seizures, among others. If you experience any unusual symptoms, it is vitally important to seek immediate medical attention (e.g., call 911) for prompt treatment and to determine the cause of the symptoms.
— Foods: Essentially any food can trigger an allergic reaction, but some of the most common ones are: peanuts, nuts from trees (e.g., walnut, cashew, Brazil nut), shellfish, fish, milk and eggs. Food additives such as sulfites can also sometimes trigger anaphylactoid reactions.
— Stinging insects: The venom of stinging insects such as yellow jackets, honeybees, paper wasps, hornets and fire ants cause discomfort for most people who are stung. However, reactions can be severe and even deadly for people with allergies to these venoms.
— Medications: Virtually any medication can trigger an allergic reaction. Common categories of drugs that cause anaphylaxis are antibiotics and anti-seizure medicines. Medical therapies such as certain post-surgery fluids, vaccines, blood and blood products, radio contrast dyes, pain medications and other drugs may cause anaphylaxis or anaphylactoid reactions.
— Latex: Some products made from natural latex (from the rubber tree) contain allergens that can trigger reactions in sensitive individuals. The greatest danger of severe reactions occurs when latex comes into contact with moist areas of the body or internal surfaces during surgery because more of the allergen can rapidly be absorbed into the body.
— Exercise: Although rare, exercise can also trigger anaphylaxis. Oddly enough, it does not occur after every exercise session and in some cases, only occurs after eating certain foods before exercise.
— Other: Anaphylaxis has rarely been associated with exposure to seminal fluid, hormones and exposure to extreme temperatures. When no cause is found and the reaction is definitely anaphylaxis, it is termed idiopathic anaphylaxis.
If you (or anyone you are with) begin experiencing severe allergy symptoms, call for medical help immediately. Emergency responders and medical staff can administer different medications to alleviate the anaphylaxis including epinephrine (adrenalin) to relieve breathing problems and improve circulation, antihistamines to reduce swelling and itching or steroids to further reduce the allergic response. The sooner the reaction is treated, the less severe it is likely to become. Even if you have received immediate medical treatment on site, you should be transported to a hospital for further evaluation.
If you have ever had anaphylaxis, make sure to see an allergist/immunologist for follow-up evaluation and treatment. The allergist/immunologist will take your medical history and conduct other tests, if needed, to determine the exact cause. Once the trigger of the reaction is identified, your allergist/immunologist can provide detailed information about avoiding that or other related dangerous substances.
Avoidance of the allergen(s) is the primary way to remain safe, but requires a great deal of education. Specific advice may include:
— Food: how to interpret ingredient labels and manage restaurant dining; avoid food cross-contact
— Insects: avoid perfumes, bright color clothing, and “high risk” activities; wear long sleeves/pants
— Medications: which drugs or treatments to avoid; a list of alternative medications that should be tolerable
In some cases, your allergist/immunologist may suggest specific treatments. For example, vaccines (“allergy shots”) to virtually eliminate the risk of anaphylaxis from insect stings are available, and there are procedures that make it possible to be treated with certain medications to which you are allergic.
Your allergist/immunologist may also prescribe a self-injectable epinephrine shot to carry with you. This medication reverses the allergic reaction, at least temporarily, to provide the life-saving time needed to get further treatment in a medical facility. Learn how to self-administer the epinephrine according to your allergist/immunologist’s instructions, and replace the device before the labeled expiration date. Adult and children’s dosages are available.
You may also want to wear a special bracelet or necklace that identifies you as having a severe allergy. These tags can also supply other important information about your medical condition.
Additionally, REMSA has a program called the Mini Medi-File which helps keep this information in one convenient location.
If you have had an anaphylactic reaction, it is important to inform family, health care workers, employers and school personnel about your allergy so they can watch for symptoms and help you avoid your allergy triggers.
Above all, make sure to work in partnership with your allergist/immunologist to ensure your safety and health.
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