What is an allergic reaction?

The immunity system is our defense against foreign bodies such as bacteria and virus. It identifies these harmful foreign bodies and fights them off to keep us healthy. However, this seemingly perfect defense mechanism can cause problems.

For some people, their immunity system identifies harmless substances as harmful and consequently overreacts to such substances. This is called an allergic reaction.

Harmless substances that can trigger an allergic reaction are called allergens. These allergens vary from person to person. They can be food items, medications, venoms or particles in the environment.

When a person comes in contact with allergens, the allergic reaction can range from a mild reaction characterized by sneezing, watery eyes etc to a serious life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis is an acute allergic reaction that occurs immediately after being exposed to allergens. If not treated right away it could lead to death.

Common allergens include

  • Pollen
  • Animal hair
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Insect bites and stings
  • Certain medicines

Symptoms you need to watch out for:

  • Breathing difficulty as seen in an asthma attack
  • Redness of skin or rashes
  • Puffy or itchy eyes
  • Swelling of tongue and throat
  • Trouble speaking or hoarse voice
  • Swelling of the face
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased heart rate and pulse
  • Signs of anxiety and shock
  • Loss of consciousness

What should you do in case you see these symptoms?

  1. If you see someone developing an allergic reaction, ask them if they have any prescribed medications for it. If they don’t call for medical help immediately or take them to a hospital. Even if their symptoms are subsiding or they have become mild, get medical help as fast as you can.
  1. Some allergic patients carry their medication with them in the form of tablets, injections (usually adrenalin) or inhalers. If they have the medicines with them assist them with the medication or do it yourself by following the instruction on the pack. Then, call for medical help or take them to the hospital as soon as possible.

Avoid giving the patient oral medication or even water to drink if they have trouble breathing.

While you wait for medical aid to arrive, try to calm the patient down and help them sit in a comfortable position or help them lie down. If they have any difficulty in breathing, sit them up straight and ask them to lean forward slightly. Observe the patient closely for any changes in his condition.

If you are a person who has had any severe allergic reactions in the past, it would be advisable to teach your friends, family, and colleagues on how to use the medication prescribed for you.