Know When to Go to the ER for an Allergic Reaction

Know When to Go to the ER for an Allergic Reaction

Allergic reactions. Everybody has one to something, right? If I asked you what percentage of people you think have allergies — whether it’s to peanuts, pollen, penicillin or perfume — I bet you’d say 100 percent. Because that’s what I’d say. But no, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only about 1 in 5 of us suffer with allergies each year.

Maybe the CDC doesn’t know about all of us. Or about the apparent dangers of things that start with “p.” Still, allergies are the sixth-leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. and cost more than $18 billion annually to treat and manage.

Most of us battle our allergens by avoiding trigger foods, popping pills, wearing medical bracelets and steering clear of suspicious plants. But what if that isn’t enough? Often we take our medical symptoms too lightly, especially when we haven’t experienced them before. With a severe allergic reaction, this can be fatal.

Scott Corcoran, MD, a board-certified emergency room physician at Medical City McKinney, says life-threatening allergic reactions can happen rapidly and without warning. They can even be triggered by things we were previously able to tolerate. Dealing with a severe allergic reaction can be frightening, especially when it’s your child who is affected.

Gan Su, DO, an emergency medicine physician at Medical City Arlington, says the main signals that should send you running to an emergency room with an allergic reaction include:

  • Hives all over your body
  • Breathing problems

Some symptoms of an allergic reaction can mimic other conditions, such as the flu. Additional symptoms of an allergic reaction that require medical attention may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swelling of the eyes
  • Swelling of the mouth and throat, which can eventually lead to closing of the airway

Anaphylaxis: The most severe allergic reaction.

The most severe allergic reaction is anaphylaxis. If left untreated, anaphylaxis can lead to seizures, shock, cardiac arrhythmia, respiratory distress and even death.

Call 911 or rush to the hospital (whichever is faster) if someone presents with any of these symptoms:

  • Flushing
  • Tingling of the palms of the hands, soles of the feet or lips
  • Light-headedness
  • Chest tightness

They’re everywhere and they don’t care.

Loads of things can trigger allergic reactions and they don’t discriminate; babies can be born with an allergy and we can develop one at any age.

The most common allergic diseases include sensitivities to things we breathe and touch:

Then there’s stuff we eat:

  • Food allergies are more prevalent in young children and are often outgrown. Common triggers include cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, sesame seeds and tree nuts such as walnuts and pecans.

Don’t forget insect bites and stings:

  • Biters include mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, blackflies, horseflies and kissing bugs
  • Stingers include bees, yellow jackets, hornets, wasps and fire ants

Disgusting! Respiratory insect allergies can be caused by cockroaches, caddis flies, midges and lake flies.

While you’re crossing food and Mother Nature off your to-do list, be sure to add manmade triggers such as latex and medications, including antibiotics.

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Get tested and give it a shot.

If you’re having reactions that can’t be controlled with medications or other forms of treatment, you may want to have an allergy test so you’ll know exactly what your triggers are.

Your doctor may then suggest allergy shots, most commonly used to treat hay fever, allergic asthma and insect stings. Allergy shots don’t work for all people nor are they used to treat all types of allergies like food allergies.

One treatment that is often prescribed for food allergies — as well as for those caused by insects, medications and latex — is an epinephrine injection. This is a prefilled, pen-sized device containing liquid medication that works to relax the muscles of the airway at the first sign of a serious allergic reaction.

Keep in mind that an injection is like first aid for an allergic reaction: It’s a great first line of defense and can save your life, but it doesn’t take the place of medical treatment. You need to call for help or get to an emergency room after using your injection.

HCA Medical City Ask a Nurse Infographic_Revised

Most allergies can be managed with careful planning and the right medical care. But for those unexpected or severe allergic reactions, look to one of our many Medical City ER locations across North Texas. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.

Find a fast Medical City ER near you or call our free 24-hour Ask-A-Nurse hotline.

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Revised August 11, 2017

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