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Treating severe allergic reactions

Bryn Mawr Hospital February 24, 2016 General Wellness

With warm weather quickly approaching, most people have their mind on getting back outdoors after particularly chilly few months. Whether it’s getting back on the track, joining a local soccer team, or simply spending time outside with family and friends, the goal is simple: get outside!

But with the promise of warm weather comes the threat of a warm weather worry: allergy season. And while allergies shouldn’t interrupt your plans for a good time, it is important to be prepared for an allergic reaction.

“Allergic reactions can vary in severity. A mild reaction usually causes symptoms like watery eyes, sneezing, and an itchy rash isn’t cause for concern. But severe allergic reactions can be life-threatening and affect the whole body,” explains Albert Rohr, MD, allergist and immunologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

These severe reactions are often referred to as anaphylactic reactions, and typically happen quickly—often within a few minutes to a half hour of exposure to an allergen. Although anaphylactic reactions can be frightening, they are manageable.

Below, Dr. Rohr offers some tips for managing severe allergic reactions during spring, summer, and all year long.

Recognize the symptoms

While a mild allergic reaction may only affect one area of the body, like the skin, nose, and throat, anaphylaxis typically affects at least two areas. These affected areas can include the skin, lungs, heart and vascular system, or digestive system, and may be indicated by symptoms like:

  • Trouble breathing, coughing or wheezing
  • Sneezing or congestion
  • A feeling of tightness in the lungs or speaking hoarsely
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Chest pain, dizziness or fainting
  • A weak, rapid pulse or low blood pressure
  • Pale or flushed skin, or sweating
  • Hives, welts, skin redness or itchy skin
  • Swelling of the throat, face, lips or tongue

If any of these symptoms start to appear, use an epinephrine injector and call 911.

Always have an epinephrine injector

If your child is at risk for severe allergic reactions, and you start to notice one or more of the symptoms listed above, an epinephrine injector—often referred to as an Epi-pen—can provide temporary relief. The treatment works by opening up the lungs and raising blood pressure, and should be a permanent part of your first aid kit if your child is at risk for severe allergic reactions.

Although it can provide quick relief for those suffering from anaphylaxis, additional treatment may be needed.

“Epinephrine injectors only provide temporary relief for the symptoms of anaphylaxis. Many people mistakenly think that once an injection has been given, then the reaction is over,” explains Dr. Rohr. “But even if your child seems like they’re okay and says their symptoms have subsided, they should still receive emergency medical evaluation.”

In addition to seeking emergency care, follow up with your family doctor or allergist in the days following to make them aware of the reaction.

Educate family, friends, coaches, and teachers

You may be prepared to recognize and treat anaphylaxis, but that doesn’t mean everyone is. Make sure that friends, family members, teachers, and coaches are aware of your child’s allergies and recognize the symptoms of anaphylaxis. To ensure that adults and others will always be aware of your child’s allergy, talk to your doctor about obtaining a medical identification bracelet.

Although many adults are trained in how to administer epinephrine injections, provide a refresher course to coaches and teachers at the beginning of the athletic season or school year, and give your child tips on how to administer an epinephrine injection by himself/herself, should they need to.

If you or your child has allergy or asthma symptoms, a Main Line Health allergy, asthma and immunology specialist has advanced training to diagnose an array of common conditions. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.