First Aid For Allergic Reactions

An allergic reaction is an acquired, abnormal inflammatory reaction to a substance (allergen) that is usually mild to moderate in most people. Pollens, medications, certain foods, insect stings and bites, dust mites, pet dander, perfumes, and detergents may cause an allergic reaction. Allergies are common in all age groups and reactions to allergens range in severity from mild to severe to a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Even though a person may previously have experienced no reactions or only very mild reactions to an allergen for many years, in some cases repeated exposures (sensitization) may eventually lead to a more severe reaction without warning. As you become more sensitized to an allergen, even a mild exposure may at some point trigger a potentially life-threatening reaction.

Allergies occur when your body’s defensive system, the immune system, comes into contact, by eating, touching, breathing, or injecting, with something it interprets as a foreign substance and a threat. Sometimes the immune system works to protect your body but other times it has difficulty distinguishing between the actual threats and substances that are not a threat. Those hyper-reactive systems tend to react with an inflammatory response to substances that aren’t actually harmful, such as certain foods. Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe reactions
requiring immediate medical attention. Sometimes symptoms are localized and immediate, but they can also be general (systemic) and delayed.

Allergens and modes of contact

Signs and Symptoms
Most allergic reactions are mild, and although they are normally not serious or life threatening, it’s a good idea to advise your doctor of the condition if it is new or unique to your medical history. The following are common symptoms of mild allergic reactions:
  • Itchy skin
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Itchy, runny nose with clear nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Rashes and hives
  • Minor swelling
Mild Allergic Reactions
A localized itchy rash (contact dermatitis) can be prevented by avoiding contact with the allergen. Wash off any known allergens immediately with soap and water, keep the area clean and dry, and if needed treat with calamine lotion. For all allergy symptoms, check with your
family doctor to see whether prescription or OTC allergy medication is advised, such as antihistamines, decongestants, or a combination of both. Your doctor may tell you to treat rashes with antihistamine cream or 1% hydrocortisone cream. As always, determining what is causing
the allergic reaction and avoiding it is the best course of action.

Sinus irrigation is a method of rinsing out and irrigating the inside of your nose and the sinuses to remove any allergens. It also helps clear any areas of infection that may be forming in your nasal passages, making breathing easier, as well as moisturizing your sinuses. It’s necessary
to use a salt concentration similar to that of your body, or isotonic, to prevent nasal-tissue swelling and damage to the tissues. You can buy commercial products or you can make your own solution (½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon baking soda, and 1 pint warm water) and store it in the
refrigerator for up to two weeks. Use the following method of sinus irrigation for relief of nasal congestion due to allergies:
  1. Use a soft rubber-tip bulb syringe to irrigate the nose.
  2. Stand over a sink or in the shower with head forward, mouth open, and chin out.
  3. Insert the tip of the bulb syringe filled with solution in the nose, stop breathing, and squeeze the solution into nose, being careful not to swallow. If you need to swallow, stop and bend your head forward and allow solution to run out of your nose.
  4. Repeat on the other side, then blow your nose very gently, closing off one side at a time and blowing with the mouth open.
If you are bothered with allergens in the air, irrigate your sinuses twice daily at first and then every day to every third day or after activities that involve being outside among allergens. You may also use a pulsating system according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Severe Allergic Reactions
Severe allergic reactions are less common, and can be life threatening if not treated immediately. If a person is exhibiting any of the symptoms below, take them to a hospital emergency room, or call 911 for emergency transport immediately:
  • Flushed face, neck, chest, arms, hands, feet, or tongue
  • Swelling of the face, eyes, tongue, or lips
  • Rapid breathing
  • Signs of panic or anxiety
  • A feeling of tightness in the chest and throat
  • Abdominal cramping or pain
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Dizziness or weakness
  • Pale and damp skin
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing and wheezing
  • Lips turning blue
  • Feeling faint or loss of consciousness (LOC)
Swelling of the airway during a severe allergic reaction can result in loss of oxygen to the brain and other vital organs. If someone is experiencing these symptoms, call 911 and follow emergency-response steps (CPR) as it is critical that they get immediate attention.

Anaphylactic Shock
Anaphylaxis is a sudden severe systemic (wholebody) allergic reaction that can potentially kill a person in less than fifteen minutes unless emergency measures are taken. Anaphylaxis is a constellation of symptoms including:
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Confusion
  • Abnormal breathing sounds
  • Weak or rapid pulse
  • Heart palpitations(missed beats)
  • Blueness of the skin(including the lipsand nail beds)
  • Slurred speech
  • Fainting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Hives Itching and skin redness
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Nasal congestion
  • Cough
[Doctors will prescribe an Epinephrine Auto-Injector for patients with severe allergies.If someone in your family has a prescription and is experiencing a severe allergic reaction in which the throat is constricting and breathing is becoming increasingly difficult, you need to usethe injector immediately as instructed by their doctor]

These symptoms develop rapidly in response to an allergen, often within seconds or minutes, and without proper intervention may result in anaphylactic shock including dangerously low blood pressure, respiratory arrest (the person stops breathing), and cardiac arrest
(when the heart stops beating). Try your best to remain calm. For all severe allergic
reactions, follow the steps outlined below:
  1. Call 911 immediately.
  2. Check for ABCs (airway, breathing, and circulation) and perform CPR.
  3. If the person has received a bee sting, quickly and carefully scrape the stinger away with a knife, credit card, or fingernail without touching the sack that’sattached . Wash the site with soap and water and apply a cold pack, keeping the sting site below the level of the person’s heart if possible.
  4. To prevent shock, if able to breathe easily, lay the person flat with head tilted up (do not use a pillow, as this will restrict breathing) and raise the feet eight to twelve inches. Use a blanket to keep the person warm. If the person is having difficulty breathing, place them in a sitting position and keep them calm until EMS arrive.
  5. Do not give the person any food or drink if they are having difficulty breathing, swallowing, or if they are wheezing.
[ source : The Everything First Aid Book by Nadine Saubers, R.N. ]

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