Allergic emergencies can occur with certain insect stings, food allergies, occasionally with severe asthma and sometimes for unknown reasons. People who suffer from severe allergic reactions must receive immediate medication, usually in the form of an injection or sometimes an inhaler.
Allergic reactions to insect stings are usually from the sting of a bee, wasp, hornet, yellow jacket, from the bite of a fire ant and, in some cases, from the bite of the kissing bug. More than a million people in the United States have anaphylactic reactions to Hymenoptera (bee) stings each year. Symptoms which are considered serious include hives in an adult, swelling in a location distant from the sting site (for example, if a sting is on the finger and the lips swell), chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, a drop in blood pressure or the development of shock. A person with any of these reactions could then suffer a life-threatening reaction if they are stung again-for example, the larynx or trachea could swell and they would be unable to breath.
Emergency Epinephrine Kits
Patients who suffer severe allergic reactions must carry injectable epinephrine (adrenaline) at all times, because they may not have time to get to an emergency room or physician. Reactions can occur within 15 minutes or less.
Foods that can cause reactions after ingestion are usually fish (especially shellfish), pork, eggs, milk and peanuts. However, almost any food can cause an allergy. Sulfites, which are used in certain foods as a preservative, can also cause allergic reactions. People who suffer from food allergies must avoid foods they have reacted to and be on the alert for these foods on package labels or mixed with other nonallergic food items.
Life-Threatening Allergic Reaction
Angioedema, or severe allergic swelling is usually accompanied by a rash or hives. This condition can also be life threatening. If the cause of angioedema is known, it should be avoided. If the cause is unknown or is a food and the patient has had breathing problems, injectable epinephrine or an inhaler should be carried.
Severe asthma, the most common type of allergic emergency, is usually treated with hand-held metered-dose inhalers containing medication such as pirbuterol, albuterol, metaproterenol or terbutaline. If the asthma reaction is severe, an injection of epinephrine may be needed.
Prevention and Treatment
Prevention and treatment of allergic reactions should be discussed with your doctor. He will consult with you on which medication is the most effective and most practical for you to use. There are some antihistamines that may help in allergic emergencies, but in general they cannot take the place of injectable epinephrine. A spring-loaded injectable epinephrine is available called EpiPen. This medication can be self-administered without the use of a syringe. The alternative is to be taught to inject the epinephrine with a syringe prior to any emergency that may occur.
If you have suffered from a severe allergic reaction, it is important that you be prepared before a life-threatening reaction occurs. Consult with your doctor so he can prescribe the best medication for your condition and you can develop a treatment plan.