Allergic Reaction First Aid: What to Do - The Proactive Health Management Plan
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Allergic Reaction First Aid: What to Do

What is an allergic reaction?

Your immune system creates antibodies to fight off foreign substances so you don’t get sick. Sometimes your system will identify a substance as harmful, even though it isn’t. When this happens, it’s called an allergic reaction.

These substances (allergens) can be anything from food and medication to environments.

When your body comes in contact with these allergens, it can cause mild symptoms like skin irritationwatery eyes, or sneezing. In some people, allergies can lead to anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition. It results in shock, a sudden drop in blood pressure, and difficulty breathing. This can lead to respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.

Immediately call 911 or your local emergency services if you or someone you know is experiencing anaphylaxis.

What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?

Your body’s allergic reaction depends on what you’re allergic to. Parts of your body that’ll react include your:

Common symptoms

Take a look at the table below to see which symptoms commonly occur for which allergy:

Symptom

Environmental allergy

Food allergy

Insect sting allergy

Drug allergy

Sneezing

X

X

Runny or stuffy nose

X

Skin irritation (itchy, red, peeling)

X

X

X

X

Hives

X

X

X

Rash

X

X

X

Trouble breathing

X

Nausea or vomiting

X

Diarrhea

X

Short of breath or wheezing

X

X X

X

Watery and bloodshot eyes

X

Swelling around the face or contact area

X

X

Rapid pulse

X

X

Dizziness

X

Anaphylaxis or severe reactions

The most serious allergic reactions can cause anaphylaxis. This reaction occurs minutes after exposure and, if left untreated, can lead to loss of consciousnessrespiratory distress, and cardiac arrest.

Signs of anaphylaxis include:

Get emergency help if you or someone you know is experiencing anaphylaxis, even if symptoms start to improve. Sometimes symptoms can return in a second phase.

What to do when someone is experiencing anaphylaxis

If you’re with someone who’s experiencing anaphylaxis, you should:

  1. Call 911 immediately.
  2. See if they have an epinephrine (adrenaline) auto-injector (EpiPen) and help them, if needed.
  3. Try to keep the person calm.
  4. Help the person lie on their back.
  5. Raise their feet about 12 inches and cover them with a blanket.
  6. Turn them on their side if they’re vomiting or bleeding.
  7. Make sure their clothing is loose so they can breathe.

The sooner the person gets their epinephrine, the better.

Avoid giving oral medications, anything to drink, or lifting their head, especially if they’re having trouble breathing.

Your doctor can prescribe emergency epinephrine. The auto-injector comes with a single dose of medication to inject into your thigh. You’ll want to teach your family and close friends how to inject the epinephrine in case of an emergency.

CPR for anaphylaxis

If the person you’re with isn’t breathing, coughing, or moving, you may need to perform CPR. This can be done even without formal CPR training. CPR involves doing chest presses, about 100 per minute, until help arrives.

If you’re interested in learning CPR, contact the American Heart Association, American Red Cross, or a local first-aid organization for training.

Treatments for allergic reactions

Over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines and decongestants may relieve minor symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Antihistamines prevent symptoms such as hives by blocking histamine receptors so your body doesn’t react to the allergens. Decongestants help clear your nose and are especially effective for seasonal allergies. But don’t take them for more than three days.

These medications are available in tablets, eye drops, and nasal sprays. Many OTC drugs also cause drowsiness, so avoid taking them before driving or doing work that requires a lot of concentration.

Swelling, redness, and itching may be reduced with ice and topical creams that contain corticosteroids.

Make an appointment with your doctor if OTC drugs don’t work. Call your doctor right away if you have an allergic reaction to the medication.

Treatments for food allergies

The best remedies for food allergies usually entail avoiding foods that trigger an allergic reaction. If you accidentally come in contact or eat the food you’re allergic to, OTC drugs can temper the reaction.

However, these drugs only help relieve hives or itching. Oral cromolyn can help your other symptoms. It’s only available by prescription, so talk to your doctor.

You can also treat severe food allergies with epinephrine.

Treatments for plant or bite allergies

Poisonous plants

According to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, about 7 out of 10 people have an allergic reaction when they touch poison ivypoison oak, and poison sumac. The sticky substances from these plants, also called urushiol, bind to the skin upon contact.

Symptoms range from mild redness and itching to severe blisters and swelling. Rashes appear anywhere from three hours to a few days after contact and last one to three weeks.

If exposed to poisonous plants, do the following:

  1. Avoid touching other areas of your body, especially your face.
  2. Clean the area with soap and water for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Take a cool bath.
  4. Apply calamine or another anti-itching lotion three to four times a day to relieve itching.
  5. Soothe inflamed areas with oatmeal products or 1 percent hydrocortisone cream.
  6. Wash all clothing and shoes in hot water.

These steps all focus on removing the urushiol from your skin. Severe reactions in children may require a doctor’s visit to prescribe oral steroids or stronger creams to ease symptoms.

See your doctor if you have a high temperature and:

  • the scratching gets worse
  • the rash spreads to sensitive areas, like the eyes or mouth
  • the rash doesn’t improve
  • the rash is tender or has pus and yellow scabs

Despite some claims, there’s no scientific evidence to support that scratching an open wound leads to poison in the bloodstream. The leftover oil (urushiol) only touches the immediate area. Avoid spreading the oil immediately by washing the affected area with soap and water.

Stinging insects

Most people will have a reaction to an insect bite, but the most serious reaction is an allergic one. About 2 million people in the United States are allergic to insect stings, estimates the Cleveland Clinic.

Most common insect stings are from:

  • bees
  • wasps
  • yellow jackets
  • hornets
  • fire ants

Treat insect allergies with these first-aid methods:

  1. Remove the stinger with a straightedge object, like a credit card, using a brushing motion. Avoid pulling or squeezing the stinger. This may release more venom into your body.
  2. Wash the area with soap and water. Apply an antiseptic after washing.
  3. Apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion. Cover the area with a bandage.
  4. If there’s swelling, apply a cold compress to the area.
  5. Take an antihistamine to reduce itching, swelling, and hives.
  6. Take aspirin to relieve pain.

Pregnant women shouldn’t take OTC drugs without getting the OK from their doctor.

Children shouldn’t take aspirin. This is because of the risk of a rare, but fatal, condition called Reye’s syndrome.

Jellyfish stings

If a jellyfish stings you, wash the area with seawater or vinegar for 30 minutes. This will neutralize the jellyfish’s toxin. Apply something cold on the affected area to soothe your skin and lessen pain. Use hydrocortisone cream and an antihistamine to reduce swelling.

The British Red Cross advises that urinating on a jellyfish sting won’t help. In fact, it may actually increase pain.

Treatment for drug allergies

In most drug allergy cases, your doctor should be able to prescribe an alternative medication. Antihistamines, corticosteroids, or epinephrine may be needed for more serious reactions.

Otherwise, your doctor may recommend a desensitization procedure. This means taking small doses of the medication until your body can handle your dosage.

How to prevent allergic reactions

Once you’ve had an allergic reaction, it’s important to identify the source to avoid future contact. For ingredient-specific allergies, check product ingredients before purchase. Applying lotion before going hiking or camping may help prevent poison ivy from spreading or absorbing into your skin.

The more control you keep over your contact with allergens, the less likely you’ll have an allergic reaction. Make sure your co-workers and friends know about your allergies and where you keep your epinephrine auto-injector. Teaching your friends how to treat an allergic reaction can help save a life.

The above article is courtesy of My EZ Health Guide and is intended for informational purposes only.

 

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17 Comments
  • Amber Isachsen
    Posted at 13:52h, 27 October Reply

    Beneficial information!

  • Deb
    Posted at 18:56h, 25 October Reply

    Very informative article thank you

  • Alexander Broderick
    Posted at 11:33h, 25 October Reply

    I cant eat peanuts and peanut butter bc my throat will swell up and I start coughing and wheezing till eventually i black out. I had to be taken to the hospital 2 times in my life bc of this allergy…. sadly both were during a christmas party

    • Nancy
      Posted at 14:26h, 30 October Reply

      Alexander, thank you for sharing. It’s unfortunate you had to experience this especially during a Christmas party. This is a good reminder for those that suffer from a peanut allergy.

  • Brian Berry
    Posted at 22:51h, 24 October Reply

    Good information to always have on hand in any situation.

  • Myrna Heins
    Posted at 21:20h, 24 October Reply

    Great article to read. Thanks for the information

  • Tiffany
    Posted at 04:44h, 24 October Reply

    Great information

  • Travis Plymell
    Posted at 02:39h, 24 October Reply

    Important info to know for you young children especially!

  • Laurie Lierman
    Posted at 22:25h, 23 October Reply

    Good article

  • Jonathan Upholz
    Posted at 22:11h, 23 October Reply

    Great information to know

  • Kim Wilhelm
    Posted at 22:06h, 23 October Reply

    Very helpful article

  • behzad mahaseny
    Posted at 21:42h, 23 October Reply

    great

  • Ashley Hyer
    Posted at 20:45h, 23 October Reply

    Very enlightening, lot of info on studies that were the opposite of what I had been told years ago.

  • Shelly Marley
    Posted at 20:38h, 23 October Reply

    I developed an allergy to strawberries at 18 years old. I can’t even get near strawberries and I love them. 🙁

    • Nancy
      Posted at 16:18h, 24 October Reply

      That is unfortunate, Shelly. I feel for you… I love strawberries too! Perhaps you can check with your physician for options.

  • Jim Hoit
    Posted at 20:22h, 23 October Reply

    When I eat eggs I get physically ill. I get nauseated and often have vomiting or diarrhea. Is this an allergy?

    • Nancy
      Posted at 16:17h, 24 October Reply

      Hi Jim, it may be an allergy but to be certain, I encourage you to check with your physician. Your physician can check all variable involved.

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