More and more people are being stricken with allergies. In the U.S. alone allergic conditions are the fifth leading type of chronic disease. Allergic responses to food account for 200,000 annual ER visits and about 10,000 hospital stays.
What Is an Allergy?
When your immune system reacts to an allergen (a foreign substance), that is an allergic symptom. An allergy can be caused by something you ate, was injected with, touched or inhaled. The degree of the reaction varies, it can be a runny nose, irritated throat, or itchy eyes. More severe allergies can cause rashes, asthma attacks, swelling in the throat, or death.
The immune system response can be localized or widespread throughout the body. Some common allergens include:
- Bee stings
- Insect Bites
- Milk, nuts, eggs or shellfish
- Animal Dander
- Grass and other plants
Anaphylaxis or Anaphylactic Shock
The most severe or potentially life-threatening reactions are anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. When an allergic person is exposed to an irritant, their system because sensitized to the foreign substance. If contact happens again, anaphylaxis can come on fast. The body releases histamines that bring on allergic systems such as:
- Tightening of the airways
- High anxiety
- Difficulty breathing
- Abdominal pain
- Swelling of face, eyes or tongue
- Nausea and vomiting
Testing for Allergies
If you suspect you have allergies, there are tests that can be done to assess the situation. Either skin tests or blood tests can be performed by a medical professional to determine where your sensitivities lie.
Skin Prick Test
A doctor will prick the skin surface with a variety of allergens. For example, if you suspect you have seasonal or environmental allergies, your doctor may test the area with grass, pollen, dust and pet dander. If you have symptoms after eating shellfish, you may be pricked with serums from lobsters, crab or other mollusks. If your skin becomes swollen, red and itchy, you are likely to be allergic to these substances.
Allergy Blood Tests
Blood tests are used for the following reasons:
- The patients are on meds that may interfere with prick testing.
- A chronic skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis interferes with a skin test
- A sensitive allergen may cause an adverse reaction
- For babies and younger children, it is easier to conduct a blood test
What to Do If You or Someone is having an Allergic Reaction
Whether your response was mild or severe, medical attention is important if this is your first reaction.
- Mild to Moderate: Even a mild allergic reaction can be cause for alarm. Anxiety can make the response worse, so try to keep calm the person. Next, identify the cause of the allergic response to avoid further contact.
- Severe Reaction: Inspect the throat of someone having a severe allergic reaction. If the throat is swollen, the person’s voice will be very shallow, coarse or hoarse. If the individual was stung by a bee, scrape off the stinger with a firm object. Do not try to squeeze or pull it out. This can release more poisonous venom. If the person has an EpiPen available inject the allergy medicine. Do not offer oral medication if the person is having a hard time breathing.
Since there is no way to stop being allergic to certain irritants, the best approach is to try to prevent reactions.
- Stay away from foods, medications and other irritants that have caused a response in the past.
- If you have a severe allergy to anything, wear a medical ID bracelet and always carry rescue medication.
- If your child already has an established food allergy, introduce new foods in small amounts, one item at a time, so you can determine any additional sensitivities.