An allergic reaction is the body's way of responding to an "invader." When the body senses a foreign substance, called an antigen, the immune system is triggered. The immune system normally protects the body from harmful agents such as bacteria and toxins. Its overreaction to a harmless substance (an allergen) is called a hypersensitivity, or allergic, reaction.
- Anything can be an allergen. Common dust, pollen, plants, medications, certain foods, insect venoms, viruses, or bacteria are examples of allergens.
- Reactions may be in one spot, such as a small skin rash or itchy eyes, or all over, as in a whole body rash.
- A reaction may include one or several symptoms.
In rare cases, an allergic reaction can be life threatening, although most allergic reactions are much less serious, such as a rash from poison ivy or sneezing from hay fever. The reaction depends on the person but is sometimes unpredictable.
Allergic reactions are unique to the individual. Most people are aware of their particular allergy triggers and reactions.
- Certain foods, vaccines and medications, latex rubber, aspirin, shellfish, dust, pollen, mold, animal dander, and poison ivy are famous allergens.
- Bee stings, fire ant stings, penicillin, and peanuts are known for causing dramatic reactions that can be serious and involve the whole body.
- Minor injuries, hot or cold temperatures, exercise, or even emotions may be triggers.
- Often, the specific allergen cannot be identified unless you have had a similar reaction in the past.
Allergic Reaction Symptoms
The look and feel of an allergic reaction depends on the body part involved and the severity of the reaction. Some reactions affect many areas, others affect just one area. Reactions to the same allergen vary by individual.
Anaphylaxis is the term for any combination of allergic symptoms that is rapid, or sudden, and potentially life threatening. Allergic reactions can be dangerous. Sudden, severe, widespread reactions require emergency evaluation by a medical professional.
- Sudden, severe, rapidly worsening symptoms
- Exposure to an allergen that previously caused severe or bad reactions
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
- Wheezing, chest tightness, loud breathing, or trouble breathing
- Confusion, sweating, nausea, or vomiting
- Widespread rash
- Collapse or unconsciousness
- One sign of anaphylaxis is shock. Shock is caused by sudden dilation of many or large blood vessels. This is brought on by the action of the mediators. If the drop in blood pressure is sudden and drastic, it can lead to unconsciousness, even cardiac arrest and death.
Image courtesy U.S. Food & Drug AdministrationCommon sites for allergic reactions
- Symptoms of an allergic reaction include any, some, or many of these:
- Skin - Redness, itching, swelling, blistering, weeping, crusting, rash, eruptions, or hives (itchy bumps or welts)
- Lungs - Wheezing, tightness, cough, or shortness of breath
- Head - Swelling of the face, eyelids, lips, tongue, or throat; headache
- Nose - Stuffy nose, runny nose (clear, thin discharge), sneezing
- Eyes - Red (bloodshot), itchy, swollen, or watery
- Stomach - Pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or bloody diarrhea
Try these 5 tips to get ready for the onslaught of pollens:
- Plan outdoor activities after checking pollen levels. (Even better, get tested so you know which pollens wreak havoc).
- Don’t forget to change or wash the A/C filters at home on a regular basis to assist you indoors.
- Wash your hair nightly and change your clothes before entering your bedroom to prevent outdoor pollens from being transferred into your bedroom and bedding.
- Visit an allergist for a successful allergy treatment plan and pre-treat before your allergy symptoms make you ill.
- Watch out for various foods that can worsen seasonal allergies — in at least one third of seasonal allergy sufferers, these include apples, pears, carrots, celery, almonds, hazelnut, and stone fruits (plum, peach, nectarine, cherry, etc). The most common symptom is itchiness of the mouth, tongue, lips, and throat after ingesting “cross-reactive” proteins in the foods.
If your child suffers from allergies, it would be wise to encourage them to wash up and change after playing outside. During the height of the allergy season, remind them not to play in open fields or weedy areas. Also, check them carefully for deer ticks after they have been out and about! Here are some other helpful strategies that may reduce the frequency and severity of your family's allergy symptoms.
- Avoid overstuffed furniture, shelves, and other dusty surfaces.
- Keep all clothes in closed closets; keep wool clothing in plastic bags.
- Reduce humidity, which is conducive to dust mite growth; avoid using belt-type humidifiers.
- Use washable, synthetic blankets and pillows, and wash bedding frequently.
- Use and store chemicals wisely.
- Minimize use of rugs; bare wood or tile floors are best.
- Cover mattress with aired-out plastic or hypo-avoid allergenic cover.
- Vacuum away from people who have allergies to help them avoid dust inhalation.
- Avoid contact with pets and tobacco smoke.
- Correctly ventilate your home.
- Maintain heating and cooling systems, and change filters regularly.
Avoid "hot spots" of mold growth or mold concentration.
- live plants, dried plants, flowers
- basements, closets, bathrooms, shower stalls
- clothes dryers, air conditioners, humidifiers
Here are some helpful strategies that may reduce the frequency and severity of your family's allergy symptoms.
- upholstered furniture, garbage pails
Allergy symptoms can also be triggered by common household cleaners. You may find these useful alternatives helpful.
- Ammonia - in pure form can be used for general cleaning.
- Nonchlorine bleach - use as household or laundry cleaner.
- Baking soda - use for general cleaning and deodorizing.
- Club soda - useful spot remover.
- Beeswax, lemon oil, raw linseed oil, mineral oil, olive oil, paste wax - use to polish furniture.
- Salt - works as a kitchen cleaner; loosens burned-on foods.