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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

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Allergic reactions are caused by a hypersensitive immune system that reacts when it is
exposed to a usually harmless substance. For example, if you’re allergic to peanuts and you eat a
substance that has peanut extract in it your body will react against this harmless substance as though
it were a bacterium, virus, or other harmful toxin. Often the exposure to an allergen needs only to be
slight for a reaction to occur, and sometimes a reaction may not occur for several hours.
Some common allergens are:
Food: nuts, shellfish, egg, wheat, beans, citrus, milk, additives
Medicines: penicillin, ibuprofen, aspirin, latex (gloves, condoms etc)
Plants & animals: pet dander, poison ivy, insect stings/bites, pollen, grass, dust
Symptoms are as follows:
Mild reactions (most common):
l Itching
l Flushed skin
l Hives
l Coughing, sneezing
l Headaches
l Asthma like symptoms (wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath)
l Red or watery eyes
More severe reactions:
l Intense hives
l Intense itching
l Swelling of the face, eyes, tongue, throat
l Difficulty swallowing (often because of swelling)
l Increased heart rate
l Drop in blood pressure
l Shortness of breath, hoarseness / asthma like symptoms
l Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
l Pale skin, sweating
l Cramping and intestinal pain
Most Severe:
l Anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock
Even after being treated some symptoms may persist or reappear 8-12 hours after the initial reaction.
The symptoms are usually less severe and often will go away by themselves. Some symptoms, such as
hives, will appear and disappear over 4-6 hours, even if the person is no longer being exposed to the
allergen. Hives may last for several days or even weeks, so over the counter antihistamines, like
Benadryl, can be used to treat hives.
One of the easiest ways to prevent allergic reactions is to avoid the substances that cause the
reactions. If you leave your children in the care of a babysitter it is important to let them know if the (1 of 2) [7/1/2003 11:48:12 AM]
child has any allergies and what to do if a reaction occurs.
If a reaction does occur most (mild, and some more serious reactions) can be treated with
antihistamines, like Benadryl. These stop the asthma like reactions, and cold like symptoms. Those
with asthma should be especially careful if they are highly allergic to a substance.
If the reaction takes place on the skin (like poison ivy) use ice wrapped in a towel, cool oatmeal baths,
and hydrocortisone cream to lessen the itching and swelling. If these things don’t help, call your doctor.
With things like poison ivy, you should wash everything the person who touched the plant has touched
to avoid spreading it further and causing more reactions among them or other people. Wash
everything, skin, hair, clothing, toys, countertops, and even pets.
If you think the reaction may be due to a medication the child has taken, immediately stop
treatment and contact a doctor.
Even mild reactions should be treated quickly, because if they go untreated the reaction may jump
from a mild to a serious reaction in a short amount of time. In more severe cases CPR and oxygen
may need to be administered.
For some people it is very hard to avoid the substance they are allergic to. For these people a more
expensive, but more permanent option is available. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, is small doses of
the allergen that are given to the patient and increased over time in order to develop an immunity to
the allergen. They are almost 100% effective but usually require at least 5 years of monthly (in some
cases weekly) shots.
For those who are very allergic to a substance often only a slight encounter with an allergen will send
them into a potentially fatal reaction known as anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock. In these cases,
time is very important and epinephrine (Epipen) must be administered. Unless you are trained, do not
administer the shot, call for help instead.

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