What’s an allergic reaction?
An allergic reaction is a condition in which the immune system has an abnormal reaction to a foreign substance in an effort to defend the body. Allergic reactions can present in the form of hives, itchy skin, watery eyes, runny nose, or anaphylaxis.
What are common types of allergic reactions?
- Allergic Rhinitis
- Symptoms often include sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, itching eyes, nose, or roof of the mouth. Often seasonal, another common name for this reaction is “hay fever”. If symptoms present all year-round, they could be caused by indoor allergens like mold, pets, or dust.
- Urticaria or hives are characterized by red, itchy bumps. These bumps can occur in clumps and be small or large. Hives are often triggered by foods or medications, although they can at times be a sign of stress. Stress-related hives would not be considered an allergic reaction.
- Conjunctivitis – often called eye allergies – occurs when the eyes react to an allergen. Common symptoms of conjunctivitis are reddening, swelling, and itching of the eyes.
- Atopic Dermatitis
- Atopic dermatitis – also known as eczema – usually occurs when an allergen has been exposed to skin. Symptoms include reddening or flaking skin, peeling skin, and itching.
- Food Allergies
- A food allergy occurs when the immune system overreacts to certain proteins in different foods. The smallest contact with the allergen can trigger a reaction if the allergy is severe. The most common food triggers are eggs, peanuts, fish, cow’s milk, soy, wheat, shellfish, and tree nuts.
When to see a doctor for an allergic reaction
You should seek immediate medical care if you or someone with you is in anaphylactic shock or symptoms of an allergic reaction are particularly severe. Signs such as loss of consciousness, difficulty breathing, or reactions in different systems or parts of the body – like having a combination of vomiting and hives – would be considered severe.
Allergic Reactions in Children
Allergic reactions in children aren’t necessarily different from those in adults except that children are not always able to identify or communicate their symptoms. Often, parents may see a change in behavior or disposition before physical symptoms of a reaction, like hives, swelling, or vomiting. Sometimes, an allergic reaction to food may present as a food aversion, because children will choose not to eat something that makes them feel poorly or different. Symptoms children may communicate are that it feels like food or something is stuck in the throat, that their tongue feels too large, or that their mouth itches. If an allergic reaction comes on very quickly and intensely, seek emergency medical treatment. Anaphylaxis has the potential to be life threatening very quickly and should be treated immediately.
Allergic reactions, even to the same allergen, can vary from instance to instance. Just because a reaction to a certain allergen has been mild in the past does not mean that it will be mild in the future. Keep a close eye on children around or interacting with substances that they have a known allergy to.
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