Over 50 million Americans suffer from some kind of allergy disorder. An allergic reaction occurs when the body’s immune system attacks a foreign substance that typically isn’t a threat to human health. These substances are known as allergens, and they can elicit a reaction when they are ingested, inhaled, or touched. Not all allergic reactions are life threatening. Some allergies cause minimally invasive symptoms that can be managed by taking over-the-counter antihistamines. Others are more serious and require immediate medical attention. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a severe allergic reaction can help save a life.
Know the symptoms.
Symptoms of a minor allergic reaction typically include itchy or watery eyes, nasal congestion, itchy skin or hives, and a scratchy throat. A more severe allergic reaction, also known as anaphylaxis, involves the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Anaphylaxis symptoms include abdominal pain or cramping, tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, sudden weakness, the skin feeling flushed, and difficulty swallowing. Part of the difficulty when it comes to caring for someone with severe allergies is that each of their reactions can be different. Exposure to an allergen last week might have resulted in a mild or even undetectable reaction, while the next exposure to the same allergen could turn serious quickly.
Recognizing the signs of an allergic reaction is the first step in pursuing proper treatment. It’s also important to know that severe allergy symptoms can be slowed or stopped with the use of an EpiPen. The EpiPen is an easy-to-use device that administers the drug epinephrine. The epinephrine in the EpiPen, which is widely recognized as a rescue drug, is actually synthetic adrenaline. When injected into the body, it opens up airways to facilitate breathing and raises an individual’s blood pressure by narrowing blood vessels to reduce the risk of fainting. In the case of a severe allergic reaction, you must react quickly, using the EpiPen as soon as symptoms become noticeable. The EpiPen is a great first line of defense, but it must be administered right away to be fully effective. To use an EpiPen, hold the pen firmly in one hand with the orange end pointing down. Remove the blue cap at the opposite end by pulling straight away—do not twist or bend this end. Next, swing the orange end (this is the end containing the needle) toward the outer thigh with some force. You will hear a click when it comes in contact with the body. Then it should be held in place for 10 seconds. The EpiPen should always be administered in the thigh and will work through clothing, A person should always be seen by a medical professional immediately after use of an EpiPen. Epinephrine can only control the symptoms of an allergic reaction for a short period, but it is okay to use a second injection if needed while waiting for an ambulance or to be seen by a doctor.
Focus on prevention.
Of course, it’s always best to avoid allergens altogether. If you can tell that you or a loved one has allergies but are unsure of what’s triggering reactions, ask your doctor for a comprehensive allergy test. Testing will equip you with information about what foods, insects or other animals, chemicals, or medications need to be avoided. While checking every food label or taking extra precautions when going outside may seem like a pain, preventing an allergic reaction is well worth the extra effort. Committing to prevention will lessen the likelihood that you’ll have to reach for and inject an EpiPen.