Allergic reactions are pretty common. The textbook definition of an allergic reaction is that this reaction is your body’s hyperactive response to a substance or allergen. Allergic reactions can occur when you touch something like mold, latex, metal, a pet, or when chemicals come in contact with the skin such as perm solutions, or household cleaners; when something is injected into your body like bee or wasp venom or medicine; when you consume a food such as nuts, shellfish or dairy; and when something is inhaled like mold spores or pollen. Anything from an apple, to a pine needle to a weed can cause an allergic reaction in different people.
We can all probably think of one or two things that gives us a rash, runny nose, fit of sneezes or bouts of fatigue. Many people ignore these minor symptoms and write off allergic reactions as nothing more than annoying. Yet there are other people to whom allergic reactions are life threatening. Some people’s bodies overact to the allergen creating a hyperactive response in defense which leads to severe allergic reactions that can include trouble swallowing and breathing to unconsciousness. One might say that Veruca Salt, the young lady in the story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory whose body swelled up after eating a blueberry had a farcical allergic reaction. It was all good fun when the Oompa-Loompas rolled her away, but in real life allergic reactions can be terrifying medical emergencies. They could even be deadly.
The term allergic reaction is broad and your body’s reaction to a trigger depends on your sensitivity and whether or not the body has previously built up its defenses to that particular substance. You may already be aware of things that give you allergic reactions because you already encountered the trigger and felt the reaction, however, if you’ve never eaten shellfish or been stung by a bee, you don’t know whether or not you are allergic. For example, you don’t know whether or not you are allergic to wasp venom unless you’ve been stung. The same is true for certain foods and containments. Within your blood stream, the body has antibodies each with a specific job, whether it is to fight that infection you got when you were seven or to combat the bacteria from a wound you recently recovered from. If you’ve never come in contact with a new substance, like wasp venom, your body will have to create a specific antibody to fight it off after you’ve been stung. If your body overreacts and overproduces, a severe allergic reaction can occur.
For example, let’s take four people and a wasp. One person has been stung before and knows they’re not allergic. When they get stung, nothing aside from the temporary swelling and pain of a sting occurs. Take a person who has never been stung, and they may develop a minor allergic reaction consisting of an itchy rash. Still, a third person with an allergic reaction may become very tired for a day or two. The fourth person might go into anaphylactic shock. It is a terrifying and life threatening emergency that requires immediate medical attention.
How do you know if you’re having an allergic reaction? Mild allergic reactions may involve any of the following: coughing, nasal congestion, sneezing, a mild fever, muscle aches or painful joints, abdominal cramping, and itchy red patches of skin or rashes. More sever reactions range from hives; swollen tongue, lip, eyelid or face; asthma attack or breathing problems; chest pressure; difficulty swallowing; light-headedness; even unconsciousness. It is important to talk to your doctor about both minor and major allergic reactions and to notify your doctor if what used to only give you a minor reaction, suddenly gets worse.
How do you prevent allergic reactions? If you were unaware you had an allergy to a certain substance, there is really no way to avoid the first reaction. If the allergic reaction was serious, discuss this with your doctor who may send you to an allergist to confirm the allergy. They will then take steps to help you avoid serious situations, such as prescribing an Epiphen injection for use in emergencies. The most important thing you can do is to avoid the trigger. People who suffer minor allergic reactions should also take steps to avoid their triggers.