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Allergy Attacks & Anaphylaxis

Written by Linda Hepler, RN | Published on July 17, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on July 17, 2014

First Aid for Allergy Attacks & Anaphylaxis

Many people have experienced symptoms of an allergy, such as a runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes or skin, rashes, and asthma. An allergy is when your immune system is over reactive to a specific substance (allergen). These can include pollen, dust mites, mold, pets, insects, foods, or medications.

When you come into contact with an allergen, your body assumes it is a foreign invader and the immune systems releases substances to fight off the invader. These substances result in other cells releasing chemicals, which cause an allergic reaction.

While most allergies are not serious and can be controlled with standard medication, some allergy attacks can be life threatening.

Anaphylaxis is a severe, whole body reaction. A severe allergy attack may be initiated by food, such as milk, wheat, eggs, or nuts. It can also be related to insect stings such as from wasps or bees, or some medication.

Symptoms of Anaphylaxis

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • abdominal cramps
  • heart palpitations
  • nausea and vomiting
  • swelling of the face, lips, or throat
  • skin reactions like hives, itching, paleness, or peeling
  • breathing problems
  • dizziness and/or fainting
  • shock
  • weak and rapid pulse

Many people who are aware of their severe allergies carry a medication called epinephrine. This is injected into the muscle through an “auto injector” and is easy to use. It acts quickly on the body to raise your blood pressure, stimulate your heart, decrease swelling, and improve breathing.

First Aid for Anaphylaxis

If you are experiencing anaphylaxis, or encounter someone who is, take these immediate steps.

  • Ask someone to call for medical help, or call 911 if you are alone.
  • Ask the person whether he or she carries an epinephrine injector, and if so, assist him or her according to label directions.
  • Help the person to remain calm and lie quietly, with legs elevated. If vomiting occurs turn him or her onto the side to prevent choking. Do not give them anything to drink.
  • If the person becomes unconscious and stops breathing, begin CPR, and continue until medical help arrives.

It is important to get medical treatment for an allergy attack, even if the person begins to recover. Many times symptoms can improve, but then worsen quickly after a period of time. Medical care is necessary to prevent recurrence of the attack.

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