According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 30% of all adults and 40% of children in the United States live with allergies, making allergies among the most common chronic conditions worldwide. Living with an allergy can be complex, as allergens, symptoms, and reactions vary greatly from person to person.
Food allergies are a serious problem for many people. 85 million people live with life-threatening food allergies and every 3 minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the ER. While some people may experience minor symptoms from an allergic reaction, such as a rash or itchiness, others may have severe and potentially life-threatening reactions. Severe food allergies can cause anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.
Anaphylaxis – A Life-Threatening Emergency
Anaphylaxis is the body’s extreme reaction to an allergen and can occur within minutes or even seconds after exposure. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat and tongue, hives, dizziness, vomiting, and an increased heart rate. In severe cases, anaphylaxis can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure and loss of consciousness.
It is critical to be able to recognize symptoms of a severe allergic reaction. You as well as those close to you should be familiar with the symptoms, which can include:
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat
- Difficulty breathing or wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe)
- Feeling faint or dizzy; feeling like your throat is closing up
Most people with a severe allergy with the risk of anaphylaxis carry an epinephrine auto-injector at all times. You may have heard this referred to as an Epi-pen. EpiPen is just one of the brand names of devices known generically as Epinephrine Auto-Injectors.
An epinephrine auto-injector is a device that administers a dose of the hormone epinephrine to help you deal with anaphylaxis. This medication acts on the whole body to block the progression of the allergic response. It constricts the blood vessels, leading to increased blood pressure, and decreased swelling, allowing the muscles around the airways to relax, and causing the lungs to open. Epinephrine also prevents the release of more allergic chemicals, which stops the progression of the allergic response.
If you suspect that someone may be in the early stages of anaphylaxis, seek immediate medical attention. Call 911 and stay with the person. If possible, give them an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen).
Avoid Allergy Triggers
If you have a food allergy it is important to be vigilant and carefully check labels. The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) requires that these top nine allergens appear in plain language on all manufactured food packages:
- Cow’s Milk
- Tree nuts
- Wheat (gluten)
Although these foods cover 90 percent of food allergy reactions, there are many more. These foods may also be labeled under a separate name. Some common food allergens are listed using technical names instead of their everyday ones. For example, sodium caseinate can be used to indicate that a product contains a milk protein called casein.
Be Prepared with an Emergency Plan
Because it is not always possible to avoid food allergens, it is important to develop a plan for dealing with this type of emergency before it happens. Serious allergic reactions are often unexpected, develop suddenly, and require immediate treatment. An emergency plan will ensure that if something happens, you can take care of yourself or someone else who needs medical attention. A key part of your plan is to have an Essential Care Card that documents your allergies, medical conditions, medications and other critical information and contacts. YourHealth™ offers a free Essential Care Card that empowers you to manage your health and wellness needs, now and during an emergency. Instant access to your information through a Medical QR Code can make all the difference when seconds count. It is easy and free to set up and use.
Living with a food allergy can be complex, as allergens, symptoms, and reactions vary greatly from person to person. Because it is not always possible to avoid food allergens, it is important to develop a plan for dealing with this type of emergency before it happens. Serious allergic reactions are often unexpected, develop suddenly, and require immediate treatment.
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