Anaphylaxis, Epinephrine and Google Maps: Allergic Reactions and How to Handle Them
January 19, 2018
Allergic reactions are scary, to say the least. From the start of an allergic reaction, a person has exactly 13 minutes until it becomes fatal. If you didn’t grow up with an allergy, you might not be prepared for an allergic reaction. You might believe you have no allergies, only to learn that the exotic food your trying is dangerous. You might be with a friend who accidentally eats something containing peanuts. You may never have to respond to an allergic reaction. Whether or not you think it’s plausible, you should be ready — each year, food allergies alone account for 200 deaths.
Allergies versus “Allergies”
Before we get going, it’s important that you understand the difference between an allergy and “allergies.” “Allergies” are much more common, normally caused by pollen. These are what plague us every spring and fall, when our noses run and our throats get scratchy. If you have “allergies,” you don’t have to worry about having a severe allergic reaction. If you have an allergy, the threat is ever present. An allergy may be as simple as sniffling when you’re around cats, but it could also mean ingesting cat hair and visiting the emergency room. “Allergies” are nothing to worry about, an allergy leads to anaphylactic shock.
The two are very similar in cause, though. Your immune system is built to deal with any and every threat. Your immune system is also smart: it would rather prevent something bad then have to put up with it. It’s like a person learning math: they have to multiply by hand for a while, but eventually they learn their multiplication tables to save time. Your body saves time by identifying potential problems, and deploying antibodies to get rid of them. This is where many of the symptoms of the cold or flu come from: your body notices bacteria or viruses it doesn’t want, and tries to expel them by sneezing.
Unfortunately, our body doesn’t get things right 100% of the time. This is why an “allergy” to pollen is so common. It’s very easy for our body to identify pollen as harmful because it’s associated with getting sick. Other things aren’t as easy to make sense of. Peanuts, cat hair, and eggs are all common allergies that don’t make much sense to the brain — but a lot of sense to the body. When our body identifies something as harmful, it becomes referred to as an allergen. Allergens can cause different levels of reaction, but they all cause one thing: anaphylaxis.
What is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock, is a “severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.” When your body senses an allergen, it begins to release histamines. This is the beginning of anaphylactic shock, which causes a sudden drop in blood pressure, and the narrowing of airways. This will lead to choking, gasping for air, and suffocation. Other symptoms of anaphylaxis include hives, rash, a weak pulse, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and fainting.
What Do I Do When Someone Has an Allergic Reaction?
Before worrying about what you have to do, you should be aware of how to identify anaphylaxis. If the person in question, you or whoever else, has a known allergy and you begin to see any symptoms of anaphylaxis, don’t doubt yourself in putting two and two together. In this case, you likely know what to do: use an EpiPen if it’s available, and call an ambulance immediately. If you see the more severe signs of anaphylaxis in a person who you aren’t sure has allergies, call an ambulance, as well. These are narrowing of airways, fainting, or a severe and quick drop in blood pressure. Whether you’re correct in your prognosis or not, this person needs medical attention.
Other reactions are less severe. If a person is sneezing and coughing, get them away from the potential issue, and they’ll likely be fine. If a person breaks out in a sudden rash, seek urgent care. There’s no need for an ambulance yet — they won’t die, but they are in trouble — but something does need to get done.
What Will A Doctor Do When I Get There?
In the case of a rash, a doctor at an urgent care center will likely prescribe antihistamines, which will get rid of the issue. They will also ask you what may have caused the reaction, and may suggest an allergy test otherwise. During anaphylactic shock, doctors will likely begin CPR, inject epinephrine, and set up an IV to give the body antihistamines and cortisol. All of these treatments will reduce the risk of fatality significant, and then kick the body out of anaphylaxis.