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Allergies are an immune system reaction to a substance called an allergen. Your immune system sees the allergen as harmful and attacks it. An allergic reaction can be mild or life-threatening. A life-threatening reaction is called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a sudden, life-threatening reaction that needs immediate treatment.


Call 911 for signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis,

such as trouble breathing, swelling in your mouth or throat, or wheezing. You may also have itching, a rash, hives, or feel like you are going to faint.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • You have tingling in your hands or feet.
  • Your skin is red or flushed.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


  • Antihistamines help decrease itching, sneezing, and swelling. You may take them as a pill or use drops in your nose or eyes.
  • Decongestants help your nose feel less stuffy.
  • Topical treatments help decrease itching or swelling. You also may be given nasal sprays or eyedrops.
  • Epinephrine is used to treat a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him of her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Steps to take for signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis:

  • Immediately give 1 shot of epinephrine only into the outer thigh muscle.
  • Leave the shot in place as directed. Your healthcare provider may recommend you leave it in place for up to 10 seconds before you remove it. This helps make sure all of the epinephrine is delivered.
  • Call 911 and go to the emergency department, even if the shot improved symptoms. Do not drive yourself. Bring the used epinephrine shot with you.

Safety precautions to take if you are at risk for anaphylaxis:

  • Keep 2 shots of epinephrine with you at all times. You may need a second shot, because epinephrine only works for about 20 minutes and symptoms may return. Your healthcare provider can show you and family members how to give the shot. Check the expiration date every month and replace it before it expires.
  • Create an action plan. Your healthcare provider can help you create a written plan that explains the allergy and an emergency plan to treat a reaction. The plan explains when to give a second epinephrine shot if symptoms return or do not improve after the first. Give copies of the action plan and emergency instructions to family members and work staff. Show them how to give a shot of epinephrine.
  • Be careful when you exercise. If you have had exercise-induced anaphylaxis, do not exercise right after you eat. Stop exercising right away if you start to develop any signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis. You may first feel tired, warm, or have itchy skin. Hives, swelling, and severe breathing problems may develop if you continue to exercise.
  • Carry medical alert identification. Wear medical alert jewelry or carry a card that explains the allergy. Ask your healthcare provider where to get these items.
    Medical Alert Jewelry
  • Inform all healthcare providers of the allergy. This includes dentists, nurses, doctors, and surgeons.

Manage allergies:

  • Use nasal rinses as directed. Rinse with a saline solution daily. This will help clear allergens out of your nose. Use distilled water if possible. You can also boil tap water and let it cool before you use it. Do not use tap water that has not been boiled.
  • Do not smoke. Allergy symptoms may decrease if you are not around smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.

Prevent allergic reactions:

  • Do not go outside when pollen counts are high if you have seasonal allergies. Your symptoms may be better if you go outside only in the morning or evening. Use your air conditioner, and change air filters often.
  • Avoid dust, fur, and mold. Dust and vacuum your home often. You may want to wear a mask when you vacuum. Keep pets in certain rooms, and bathe them often. Use a dehumidifier (machine that decreases moisture) to help prevent mold.
  • Do not use products that contain latex if you have a latex allergy. Use nonlatex gloves if you work in healthcare or in food preparation. Always tell healthcare providers about a latex allergy.
  • Avoid areas that attract insects if you have an insect bite or sting allergy. Areas include trash cans, gardens, and picnics. Do not wear bright clothing or strong scents when you will be outside.
  • Prevent an allergic reaction caused by food. You may have a reaction if your food is not prepared safely. For example, you could be served food that touched your trigger food during preparation. This is called cross-contamination. Kitchen tools can also cause cross-contamination. You may also eat baked foods that contain a trigger food you do not know about. Ask if the food contains your trigger food before you handle or eat it.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits. When you have an allergic reaction, write down everything you were exposed to in the 2 hours before the reaction. Take that information to your next visit.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.