When to Go to the ER for an Allergic Reaction

When to Go to the ER for an Allergic Reaction

If you’ve lived long enough, chances are you know someone who is allergic to something — peanuts, pollen, seafood, certain medications or chemicals in personal care products, to name a few. However, there are different types of allergic reactions that can range from mild — such as minor skin rash — to life-threatening. How can you learn to recognize them? How do you treat them? And, when is it time to go to the emergency room?

What is an allergic reaction?

An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system goes into overdrive when you’re exposed to certain substances — known, in the collective, as allergens. In some individuals, certain allergens trigger the body’s production of antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies release histamines to fight off the foreign substance. This causes blood vessels to expand and for the person to experience symptoms of an allergic reaction. Some of the most common types of allergens include:

  • Pollen
  • Pet dander
  • Dust mites
  • Mold
  • Latex
  • Insect bites
  • Certain foods
  • Certain plants
  • Certain medications

What is anaphylaxis?

In some cases, an allergic reaction can become so severe, it could put the person’s life in danger. In addition to causing the immune system to become overactivated, anaphylaxis results in your body releasing an avalanche of chemicals that could cause you to go into shock. This includes narrowed airways — which make breathing difficult — and low blood pressure, which can result in vital organs not receiving enough oxygen. In a worst-case scenario, it could damage the heart and/or brain, or lead to death.

In some cases, once the symptoms have been controlled, a person may experience biphasic anaphylaxis. This is what happens when the symptoms return, even if you have not been re-exposed to the allergen that caused the original anaphylaxis episode. Biphasic anaphylaxis could occur only a few hours after the first episode, but has been known to surface up to a few days later.

Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction

Since there are so many different types of allergic reactions, symptoms can vary from one person to the next. They can also range from mild to severe. However, the most common ones include:

  • Teary or irritated eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Hoarse throat
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Hives

If the person is experiencing anaphylaxis, symptoms become even more severe. And, while some people experience them within minutes from exposure, it’s also possible for them to occur much later. These include:

  • Constriction of the airways — causing breathing difficulties
  • A weak or fast pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Skin reactions — flushed or pale skin, itching, hives, skin rash
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting

Treating an Allergic Reaction

There are several forms of treatment for allergies. Which one would work best for you depends on the severity of the allergic reaction. The most common ones include:

1. Antihistamines

These could be topical creams or oral pills. They work by blocking histamines. As a result, you obtain relief from allergy symptoms. They are most commonly used to treat seasonal allergies and some food allergies.

2. Inhalers

These are provided to people for whom allergens are causing their airways to constrict — resulting in an asthma attack. They are also known as bronchodilators and they come in small devices you can carry with you and use when you experience symptoms.

3. Medications

These could be over-the-counter as well as allergy shots, steroids, or immunotherapy tablets that dissolve under your tongue. They are quick-relief options and are used to treat minor allergy symptoms.

4. Epinephrine autoinjectors

Commonly known as Epipens, they are used to treat severe asthma attacks and anaphylaxis. It works by constricting the blood vessels, increasing blood pressure, and decreasing swelling.

5. Avoiding the allergens

If you have recurring allergic reactions, your doctor can run tests to determine what’s triggering them. Once you have your answer, the best way to prevent them is to avoid the allergens as practically as possible. If it’s not realistic to avoid them all the time, carry antihistamines, inhalers, or an Epipen, per your doctor’s instructions.

When To Go To the ER for an Allergic Reaction

Call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately if you or a loved one is experiencing a severe allergic reaction (signs of anaphylaxis). Do not wait to see if they go away on their own. If you have an epinephrine autoinjector, use it as soon as possible. This is an urgent situation and waiting could be life-threatening. If the symptoms start to subside after using the Epipen, go to the emergency room anyway to prevent biphasic anaphylaxis.

24-Hour Emergency Room Services in Colorado Springs and Texas

If you or a loved one have experienced allergic reactions and the symptoms are not subsiding, let us help you. If you have questions or need immediate treatment, your nearest Complete Care location is ready to help, no matter the time of day or night. We offer a variety of services to help you and your family in your time of need. No appointments are necessary.