Medical City Healthcare - March 26, 2021

Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States, according to the Allergies and Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA). We spend about $43 billion a year to treat and manage non-food and food allergies combined. If you’ve felt like your seasonal allergies have been bothering you more frequently recently, you may be right. New research suggests that climate change may be responsible for pollen season starting earlier and lasting longer.

And of course, Texas has to be an overachiever. The Lone Star State is home to:

  • 6 cities in the AAFA’s Top 100 Allergy Capitals™ 2021 list:
    • McAllen (4)
    • San Antonio (14)
    • Dallas (19)
    • El Paso (34)
    • Houston (50)
    • Austin (61)
  • All five insects whose stings are known to cause allergic reactions:
    • Fire ants
    • Honeybees
    • Hornets
    • Wasps
    • Yellow jackets

When to go to the ER

Most of us battle our allergens by avoiding trigger foods, taking over-the-counter allergy medications, wearing medical bracelets and steering clear of suspicious plants. But what if that isn't enough? Often, we take our medical symptoms too lightly, especially when we haven't experienced them before. With a severe allergic reaction, this can be fatal.

Life-threatening allergic reactions can happen rapidly and without warning. They can even be triggered by things we were previously able to tolerate. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), it's not uncommon to have a "normal" reaction to an insect sting the first few times and then experience increasingly severe reactions with each subsequent sting.

Dealing with a severe allergic reaction can be frightening, especially when it's your child who is affected. According to the CDC, food allergies are a growing food safety and public health concern that affects about 1 in 13 children, or about 2 students per classroom. Avoiding the allergen trigger is the only way to prevent a reaction.

Gan Su, DO, an emergency medicine physician at Medical City Arlington, says the main signs that should send you running to an emergency room with an allergic reaction include:

  • Hives all over your body
  • Breathing problems

Some symptoms of allergies and allergic reactions can mimic other conditions, such as colds, flu and COVID-19.

Anaphylaxis

The most severe allergic reaction is anaphylaxis, which occurs when the body releases an overdose of allergen-fighting chemicals. If left untreated, anaphylaxis can lead to anaphylactic shock (a sudden drop in blood pressure and narrowing of the airways), seizures, cardiac arrhythmia and even death.

Additional symptoms that require immediate medical attention can include:

  • Abdominal pain, vomiting, intense nausea or diarrhea
  • Chest tightness
  • Feeling of doom
  • Light-headedness
  • Skin reactions or discoloration (rashes, flushed, blue, pale)
  • Swelling of the eyes, mouth, tongue or throat
  • Tingling hands, feet, mouth or scalp
  • Weak, rapid pulse (heartbeat)

Get tested and give it a shot.

If you're having reactions that can't be controlled with medications or other forms of treatment, you may want to have an allergy test so you'll know exactly what your triggers are.

Your doctor may then suggest allergy shots, most commonly used to treat hay fever, allergic asthma and insect stings. Allergy shots don't work for all people nor are they used to treat all types of allergies, such as food allergies.

One treatment that is often prescribed for food allergies—as well as for those caused by insects, medications and latex—is an epinephrine injection. This is a prefilled, pen-sized device containing liquid medication that works to relax the muscles of the airway at the first sign of a serious allergic reaction.

People who have a known or suspected allergy to insects should carry at least one self-injectable epinephrine pen at all times; the ACAAI recommends two for those who have had a past severe allergic reaction.

Keep in mind that an injection is like first aid for an allergic reaction: It's a great first line of defense and can save your life, but it doesn't take the place of medical treatment. You need to call for help or get to an emergency room after using your injection.

Medical City Healthcare provides comprehensive emergency services across North Texas.

At Medical City Healthcare, we’re dedicated to the care and improvement of human life. So, we hope you’ll Take Care!

For more information, call our Ask a Nurse hotline 24/7 or use Find a Doctor online.

You can also get care for minor injuries or illness at CareNow Urgent Care or visit Medical City Virtual Care for non-emergency medical treatment from your computer or smartphone.

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