Have you ever thought about how an allergic reaction is basically an overreaction? When your immune system comes into contact with certain allergens, it may inadvertently perceive it as a threat. Not only is this uncomfortable for you, it’s a tad dramatic — don’t you think?
Because of this so-called “threat”, your cells release large amounts of histamine, the chemical that triggers allergy symptoms such as sneezing.
In some people, an allergic reaction can be much more severe than just sneezing. There are actually four levels of hyper-reactivity when exposed to an allergen. The most fatal allergic reaction, known as anaphylactic shock, is life-threatening and considered an emergency. Understanding how to avoid an allergic reaction, what the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis look like, and what to do during an allergy-related emergency can potentially save a life.
Learn how to keep you (and your loved ones) safe from anaphylaxis and the four stages of allergic hyper-reactivity below.
Anaphylaxis is an immediate, life-threatening reaction to an allergen. This can result from exposure to foods, insect venom, and environmental allergens. During anaphylactic shock the immune system releases a flood of chemicals, causing the body to go into a state of shock. The signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis can occur within mere seconds of coming into contact with whatever you’re allergic to.
Allergic cytotoxic reactions are a result of cells within the body being destroyed by foreign antibodies. When this happens, normal cell function is lost and the reaction time is highly variable. This type of reaction occurs in patients from certain medications, undergoing transfusions, or antibody-related infections.
Similar to above, the third type of allergic reaction is also in response to pharmaceutical drugs. Immune complex reactions lead to tissue damage and immune complex diseases, such as dermal vasculitis — a condition that manifests into red- and purple-colored dots on the skin.
Delayed reactive allergies are also mediated by the immune system and are more commonly associated with food allergies, contact dermatitis, and drug reactions. This response is seen in patients with Multiple Sclerosis, Guillain Barre syndrome, Hashimoto’s, Rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes. In fact, almost 40 percent of people experience this type of reaction!
All four hyper-reactivity types can range in severity. But because anaphylaxis is the quickest to take effect, it’s one of the most dangerous.
The effects of anaphylaxis can occur up to several hours after exposure. The signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms following allergen exposure, go to the nearest hospital for treatment.
How you handle an episode of anaphylactic shock is crucial because of how time sensitive the situation is. Unfortunately, untreated anaphylaxis can lead to death within a half hour, so time is of the essence when dealing with this condition.
As soon as the signs and symptoms of anaphylactic shock are present, administration of an epinephrine pen is required to reverse the reaction. Be aware that a delayed reaction may require a second dose of epinephrine to fully manage the symptoms. Once the epinephrine has stabilized these aftereffects, visit the nearest emergency room for further treatment.
Avoiding a reaction is doable if you 1. have a clear idea of what your triggers are and 2. keep an epinephrine pen with you at all times.
For example, when traveling, always pack two epinephrine pens and wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace to notify others of your allergies. In case of an emergency, those around you can relay the information to medical providers if necessary. For food allergies, you can also ask in advance that your flight be as tree nut-free as possible. Airlines such as Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest can implement certain precautionary measures to ensure you are as safe as possible on their flights.
In addition, be sure to always let your doctor know if you have ever had an allergic reaction to any type of medication. This way, they can be sure to put this information in your medical records for future reference.
Those with ragweed, grass, or tree pollen allergies are also vulnerable to a potential anaphylactic episode if the reaction is severe enough. Avoid your triggers and keep track of the daily pollen count to check if you can spend time outdoors.
Along with allergen avoidance, staying proactive about avoiding anaphylaxis is the best way to lower the risk of shock. Immunotherapy is the best way to reduce the severity of allergic reactions. Unlike OTC allergy medications, immunotherapy lessens your reactivity. Medication simply stops symptoms like sneezing, watery eyes, and a runny nose.
Important Note: OTC medicine does not reverse anaphylactic shock.
In short, because immunotherapy can decrease the severity of allergic reactions, it may also prevent your chances of experiencing anaphylaxis.
If you already suffer from environmental or pet allergies, it can be difficult to know what your exact triggers are without working with a medical provider to confirm your symptoms.
To see what options are available for managing your allergies, take our quiz, Is It Right For Me? This short questionnaire will give you an idea if ShotFree Allergy can help. Together with your provider, you can work towards living allergy free and, hopefully, staying clear of anaphylactic shock. Click the button below to get started on the quiz!