Everything You Need To Know About Allergic Reactions

Written by Maryam Saleh

Maryam Saleh is a final year nursing student in Ahmadu Bello University, who is based in Zaria. She believes in helping others and putting a smile on their faces. She has a passion for writing to make awareness, spread the word and clear misconceptions and doubts, especially about health. Her goals are to prevent illness, promote health and spread knowledge. She likes spending most of her time reading, volunteering, sleeping and watching TV.

April 7, 2021

The work of our immune system is to keep you healthy by attacking harmful pathogens. It does this by fighting anything it thinks could put your body in danger. The immune system normally adjusts to your environment. For example, when your body encounters something like a mosquito bite, it should realize it is harmless. In people with mosquito bite allergies, the immune system perceives it as an outside invader threatening the body and attacks it. Allergic reactions are common and are of different types. But first, what is an allergic reaction?

What Is An Allergic Reaction?

An allergic reaction is an immune system response to a foreign substance that is not typically harmful to your body. It is also a condition in which the immune system reacts abnormally to a foreign substance. These foreign substances are called allergens. They can include certain foods, pollen, or pet dander. Depending on the allergen, this response may involve inflammation, sneezing, or other symptoms.

The severity of allergies differs from person to person and can range from minor irritation to anaphylaxis; a potentially life-threatening emergency. While most allergies can’t be cured, treatments can help relieve your allergy symptoms.

Causes Of Allergic Reactions

Researchers are not exactly sure why the immune system causes allergic reactions when a normally harmless foreign substance enters the body. Allergies have are hereditary. However, only a general sensitivity to an allergic reaction is genetic. Specific allergies aren’t hereditary. For example, if your father is allergic to fish, it does not necessarily mean that you will be, too.

An allergy starts when your immune system mistakes a normally harmless substance for a dangerous substance. The immune system then produces antibodies that remain vigilant for that particular allergen. When you are exposed to the allergen again, these antibodies can release several immune system chemicals, such as histamine, that cause allergy symptoms.

Who Are At Risk Of Developing Allergic Reactions?

1. People who have a family history of asthma or allergies, such as hay fever, hives, or eczema
2. Children
3. People who have asthma or other allergic conditions
4. People with a low immune system

What Are The Types Of Allergic Reactions?

Common types of allergic reactions include;

1. Airborne Allergies

These include pollens, dust mites waste, mould and animal products e.g. bee stings.

2. Drugs Allergies

Penicillin or penicillin-based antibiotics and sulfa drugs are common triggers of allergies. Many people are allergic to certain drugs.

3. Foods Allergies

Some people are allergic to certain kinds of foods including beans, fish, milk, wheat e.t.c. They are becoming more and more common.

Read: What To Do When Food Exceeds Its Best Before or Expiry Dates

4. Insect Stings Allergies

These might include bees, wasps, and mosquitoes stings.

5. Plants Allergies

Pollens from grass, weeds, and trees, as well as resin from plants such as poison ivy and poison oak, are very common plant allergens.

6. Seasonal Allergies

Seasonal allergies mimic cold symptoms. They are caused by pollen released by plants.

7. Skin Allergy

This occurs as a result of direct exposure to an allergen. Skin allergies may be a sign or symptom of an allergy. For example, eating a food you’re allergic to can cause several symptoms. You may develop a rash. The types might include; rashes; areas of skin that are irritated, red, or swollen, which can be painful or itchy. Contact dermatitis, sore throat, swollen eyes, burning, or inflammation on the skin are also common skin allergies.

8. Other Allergies

Other allergens including Latex often found in gloves and condoms, and metals like nickel also cause allergic reactions.

Now that you know the various types of allergies, what are the symptoms of allergies?

Symptoms Of Allergic Reactions

The symptoms experienced because of allergies are a result of several factors. These include the types of allergic reactions and how severe they are.

If any medication is taken before an anticipated allergic response, you may still experience some of these symptoms, but they may be reduced.

Some of the common symptoms of allergic reactions include;

  1. Swelling of the tongue and mouth
  2. Hives
  3. Nausea
  4. Fatigue
  5. Swollen eyes
  6. Breathing difficulties
  7. Lightheadedness
  8. Loss of consciousness
  9. A drop in blood pressure
  10. Chest tightness
  11. Severe shortness of breath
  12. Watery and itchy eyes
  13. Runny nose
  14. Increased heart rate
  15. Coughing

Treatment For Allergic Reactions

The best way to treat allergic reactions is to stay away from what triggers the reaction. If that is not possible, other treatment options are available. Allergy treatments often include medications like antihistamines to relieve symptoms. The medications are over the counter or prescribed by a professional.

What the doctor recommends depends on the severity of the allergies. The medications include antihistamines (e.g. loratadine), corticosteroids (e.g. hydrocortisone), cromolyn sodium, and leukotriene modifiers.

Immunotherapy can also be used to treat allergic reactions. Many people choose this type of treatment and it involves several injections over a few years to help the body get used to the allergy. Successful immunotherapy can prevent allergy symptoms from returning.

You should see a doctor should be seen if you have symptoms you think are caused by an allergy. Over-the-counter allergy medications don’t provide enough relief most of the time. If you still have symptoms after commencing a new medication, visit the doctor who prescribed it immediately.

For severe life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis), call emergency medical help as soon as possible. However, even if symptoms subside after the injection, you should go to the emergency department to make sure symptoms do not return when the effects of the injection wear off.

Moreover, some allergic responses are a medical emergency. Prepare for these emergencies by knowing allergic reaction first aid.

Prevention Of Allergic Reactions

There’s no way to prevent allergies. But there are ways to prevent the symptoms from occurring. Preventing allergic reactions depends on the type of allergy you have.

Avoid known triggers even if you’re treating your allergy symptoms, try to avoid triggers. If you’re allergic to pollen, stay inside with windows and doors closed when pollen is abundant. The best way to prevent allergy symptoms is to avoid the allergens that trigger them.

Also, keep a diary when trying to identify what causes or worsens your allergic symptoms, track your activities and what you eat, when symptoms occur, and what seems to help. This will help you and your doctor identify triggers.

You can also ear a medical alert bracelet or tag; if you’ve had a severe allergic reaction, a medical alert bracelet (or tag) will let others know that you have a serious allergy in case you have a reaction and you are unable to communicate.

In cases of food allergy, always ask before eating especially when eating out.

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