Typically, people with allergies develop mild to moderate symptoms, such as a runny nose, watery eyes or a rash. However, sometimes allergy symptoms can be life-threatening. Life-threatening allergic reactions are known as anaphylaxis—a rapid-onset, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. It can happen to anyone at any time, but it is more commonly experienced by people with risk factors.
Three major risk factors for fatal anaphylaxis are:
• Allergies to food, stinging insects, latex or medications
• Presence or history of asthma
• Delay in administration of epinephrine
Symptoms of anaphylaxis can occur suddenly and progress quickly. Early symptoms can be mild, such as a skin rash, runny nose or a “strange feeling.” Those symptoms can lead to more serious problems, including:
• Hives or swelling
• Hoarse voice
• Tightness of the throat
• Trouble breathing
• Abdominal pain
• Low blood pressure
• Rapid heart beat
• Feelings of doom
• Cardiac arrest
If you have had a severe allergic reaction, it’s important to understand the things that can trigger your severe allergic reaction in order to manage the condition. It is also important to carry self-injectable epinephrine if at risk, and call 911 in the event of a very serious reaction.
If you have a history of allergies or asthma, and have previously had a severe reaction, you are at greater risk for anaphylaxis.
Allergists have the training and expertise to review your history of allergic reactions and conduct diagnostic tests, such as skin-prick tests, blood tests and oral food challenges, to determine your triggers. Allergists can review treatment options and teach avoidance techniques.
“If you have a history of allergies or asthma, and have previously had a severe reaction, you are at greater risk for anaphylaxis”
Consultation with an allergist is recommended if:
• You’re unsure whether you have had an anaphylactic reaction
• Your symptoms are recurring or are difficult to control
• You’re having trouble managing your condition
• More tests are needed to determine the cause of your reactions
• Desensitization or immunotherapy could be helpful in your case
• Daily medication is needed
• You need intensive education on avoidance and anaphylaxis management
• Other medical conditions complicate your treatment
Be S.A.F.E. Action Guide
It’s always important to be safe during and after an allergic reaction. Allergists and emergency physicians have teamed up to create the “Be S.A.F.E. Action Guide” to help you remember steps to take during and after an allergic emergency.
Seek immediate medical help.
Call 911 and get to the nearest emergency facility at the first sign of anaphylaxis, even if you have already administered epinephrine, the drug used to treat severe allergic reactions. If you have had an anaphylactic reaction in the past, you are at risk of future reactions.
Identify the Allergen.
Think about what you might have eaten or come in contact with – food, insect stings, medication or latex – to trigger an allergic reaction. It is particularly important to identify the cause because the best way to prevent anaphylaxis is to avoid its trigger.
Follow up with a specialist.
Ask your doctor for a referral to an allergist/immunologist, a physician who specializes in treating asthma and allergies. It is important that you consult an allergist for testing, diagnosis and ongoing management of your allergic disease.
Carry epinephrine for emergencies.
Kits containing fast-acting, self-administered epinephrine are commonly prescribed for people who are at risk of anaphylaxis. Make sure that you carry an epinephrine kit with you at all times, and that family and friends know of your condition, your triggers and how to use epinephrine. Consider wearing an emergency medical bracelet or necklace identifying yourself as a person at risk of anaphylaxis. Teachers and other caregivers should be informed of children who are at risk for anaphylaxis and know what to do in an allergic emergency.
For more information visit www.allergysa.com or call 210.616.0882. The Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Associates of South Texas are located at 2414 Babcock Road, Suite 109 in San Antonio, TX 78229.