Every year, millions of Americans are diagnosed with allergies. For most, symptoms of these allergies include sneezing, itchy eyes, hives, or a runny nose. But for a small percentage of people, allergic reactions are much more severe. Read on to learn more about these severe reactions, called anaphylaxis, what causes them, and how they are treated.
What Allergens Can Cause Anaphylaxis?
Our immune systems are constantly working to protect our bodies from threats like bacteria and viruses, but sometimes our immune system overreacts to a foreign substance that is not dangerous. This is what causes an allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis happens when a person is exposed to an allergen, and their body has an extreme reaction, producing an overabundance of chemicals that cause a person to go into shock. Common allergens that can cause anaphylactic reactions include:
- Food: peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, eggs, milk, and wheat.
- Medication: penicillin, aspirin, painkillers like ibuprofen and anesthesia.
- Insect bites: from bees, wasps, fire ants, hornets, and yellow jackets.
- Latex: Found in disposable gloves, syringes, intravenous tubes, and catheters.
Even if a person has never had an anaphylactic reaction to that allergen before, it does not mean that they will not have one in the future. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition, and it usually occurs within a few minutes after exposure to the allergen, though sometimes it can take longer. A person experiencing an anaphylactic reaction must be seen by a doctor as soon as possible.
What Are the Symptoms of Anaphylaxis?
It is important to recognize the symptoms of anaphylaxis so that it can be treated promptly. A few of the most common symptoms include:
- Skin reactions, like itching, hives, or paleness
- Low blood pressure, which in turn can cause dizziness or fainting
- Swollen throat, tongue, or throat, which can lead to breathing difficulty
- A change in heart rate (either extremely rapid pulse, or a weak pulse)
- Nausea or vomiting
What Is the Treatment for Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is an emergency, so if someone you are with seems to be having this reaction, it is important to call 911. The most common and effective treatment is an injection of epinephrine, which can stop the reaction from becoming life-threatening. Most people who have known allergies that may cause an anaphylactic reaction will carry an EpiPen, which is a portable injection of epinephrine that they can always have with them. Even if you can give an epinephrine injection to the person who is having the reaction, they still need to go to the emergency room for a follow-up evaluation.
For more information on how to care for, and remember your epipen, check out our blog on the topic here:
How to Care for and Remember your EpiPen®
If allergies continue to post a problem for an individual, they can opt for more long-term treatment options like allergy shots, which can reduce or even eliminate reactions over time. In addition, oral immunotherapy (OIT) can help people manage food allergies. If you'd like more information on allergies and the treatments available to you, contact us.