REMSA reminds you of potential allergy triggers and how to spot the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Buds on the trees and birds in the air mean that spring has sprung! Now is a good time to understand allergies – what causes different kind of allergic reactions, the symptoms and how to treat a reaction.
Seasonal allergies caused by pollens in the air are annoying and uncomfortable, but usually not life-threatening. Mild symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, itchy ears and red, itchy, tearing eyes can be treated successfully with the many available antihistamines, decongestants, eye drops and nose sprays that you can purchase in any drug store or pharmacy. Be sure to follow the directions listed on the box for any over-the –counter medications.
During allergy season, check your local TV or radio station, your local newspaper, or the Internet for pollen forecasts and current pollen levels. Close doors and windows at night or any other time when pollen counts are high and avoid outdoor activity in the early morning when pollen counts are highest.
Air purifiers, filters, humidifiers, and conditioners provide varying degrees of relief, but none is 100 percent effective.
If you have bad seasonal allergies, or the allergy exacerbates an already existing condition (i.e. asthma or sinus infection) you may need to see your doctor for prescription medications that are stronger and can better alleviate your symptoms. For some people, allergy shots (allergen immunotherapy) can be a good option. Also known as desensitization, this treatment involves regular injections containing tiny amounts of the substances that cause your allergies. Over time, these injections reduce the immune system reaction that causes symptoms. Only a doctor can test you for your specific allergies.
To reduce your exposure to the things that trigger your allergy signs and symptoms (allergens):
• Stay indoors on dry, windy days. The best time to go outside is after a good rain, which helps clean pollen from the air.
• Have someone else do the lawn mowing, weed pulling and other gardening chores that stir up allergens and increase your exposure..
• When coming in from outside, remove the clothes you’ve worn outside and shower to rinse pollen from your skin and hair.
• Don’t hang laundry outside during high pollen count times — pollen can stick to sheets and towels.
• Wear a pollen mask if you do outside chores during allergy season or when you around plants that are allergens for you.
The most severe allergic reaction is anaphylaxis – a response involving the entire body. Anaphylaxis is a systemic reaction, which means that various parts of the body are affected that are a distance from the allergen’s initial entry site (e.g., a sting site for insects or the stomach for foods). It can result in trouble breathing, loss of consciousness and even death. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical treatment and follow up care by an allergist/immunologist. The most common substances that trigger anaphylaxis are foods, medications, and insect stings. It has been estimated that up to 15% of the population is at risk for anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis can vary from mild to severe and are potentially deadly. Possible symptoms that may occur alone or in any combination include:
Skin: hives, swelling, itch, warmth, redness, rash
Breathing: wheezing, shortness of breath, throat tightness, cough, hoarse voice, chest pain/tightness, nasal congestion/hay fever-like symptoms, trouble swallowing
Stomach: nausea, pain/cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, itchy mouth/throat
Circulation: pale/blue color, poor pulse, passing-out, dizzy/lightheaded, low blood pressure, shock
Other: anxiety, feeling of “impending doom,” itchy/watery eyes, headache, cramping of the uterus, itchy/red eyes
Reactions usually begin within minutes of exposure but may be delayed. Sometimes symptoms resolve, only to recur or progress a few hours later. The most dangerous symptoms are low blood pressure, breathing difficulties, shock and loss of consciousness, all of which can be fatal.
There are a variety of medical conditions that may mimic anaphylaxis. These include heart attacks, anxiety attacks, choking and seizures, among others. If you experience any unusual symptoms, it is vitally important to seek immediate medical attention (e.g., call 911) for prompt treatment and to determine the cause of the symptoms.
Substances that trigger non-seasonal allergy reactions
Foods: Essentially any food can trigger an allergic reaction, but some of the most common ones are: peanuts, nuts from trees (e.g., walnut, cashew, Brazil nut), shellfish, fish, milk and eggs. Food additives such as sulfites can also sometimes trigger anaphylactoid reactions.
Stinging insects: The venom of stinging insects such as yellow jackets, honeybees, paper wasps, hornets and fire ants cause discomfort for most people who are stung. However, reactions can be severe and even deadly for people with allergies to these venoms.
Medications: Virtually any medication can trigger an allergic reaction. Common categories of drugs that cause anaphylaxis are antibiotics and anti-seizure medicines. Medical therapies such as certain post-surgery fluids, vaccines, blood and blood products, radio contrast dyes, pain medications and other drugs may cause anaphylaxis or anaphylactoid reactions.
Latex: Some products made from natural latex (from the rubber tree) contain allergens that can trigger reactions in sensitive individuals. The greatest danger of severe reactions occurs when latex comes into contact with moist areas of the body or internal surfaces during surgery because more of the allergen can rapidly be absorbed into the body.
Exercise: Although rare, exercise can also trigger anaphylaxis. Oddly enough, it does not occur after every exercise session and in some cases, only occurs after eating certain foods before exercise.
Other: Anaphylaxis has rarely been associated with exposure to seminal fluid, hormones and exposure to extreme temperatures. When no cause is found and the reaction is definitely anaphylaxis, it is termed idiopathic anaphylaxis.
Treatment and prevention:
If you (or anyone you are with) begin experiencing severe allergy symptoms, call for medical help immediately. Emergency responders and medical staff can administer different medications to alleviate the anaphylaxis including epinephrine (adrenalin) to relieve breathing problems and improve circulation, antihistamines to reduce swelling and itching or steroids to further reduce the allergic response. The sooner the reaction is treated, the less severe it is likely to become. Even if you have received immediate medical treatment on site, you should be transported to a hospital for further evaluation.
If you have ever had anaphylaxis, make sure to see an allergist/immunologist for follow-up evaluation and treatment. The allergist/immunologist will take your medical history and conduct other tests, if needed, to determine the exact cause. Once the trigger of the reaction is identified, your allergist/immunologist can provide detailed information about avoiding that or other related dangerous substances. Avoidance of the allergen(s) is the primary way to remain safe, but requires a great deal of education. Specific advice may include:
Food: how to interpret ingredient labels and manage restaurant dining; avoid food cross-contact
Insects: avoid perfumes, bright color clothing, and “high risk” activities; wear long sleeves/pants
Medications: which drugs/treatments to avoid; a list of alternative medications that should be tolerable
Your allergist/immunologist may also prescribe a self-injectable epinephrine shot to carry with you. This medication reverses the allergic reaction, at least temporarily, to provide the life-saving time needed to get further treatment in a medical facility. Learn how to self-administer the epinephrine according to your allergist/immunologist’s instructions, and replace the device before the labeled expiration date. Adult and children’s dosages are available.
You may also want to wear a special bracelet or necklace that identifies you as having a severe allergy. These tags can also supply other important information about your medical condition.
If you have had an anaphylactic reaction, it is important to inform family, health care workers, employers and school personnel about your allergy so they can watch for symptoms and help you avoid your allergy triggers. Above all, make sure to work in partnership with your allergist/immunologist to ensure your safety and health.