Summer is a season full of fun, adventure, and time enjoying the outdoors. This can also be a time for extra awareness, preparation, and caution for those that have severe allergic reactions. Anaphylaxis is a sudden, severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that can be caused by a food allergy, insect bite or stings, medications, chemicals, latex, exercise, or unknown causes. Symptoms can include hives, swelling (especially of the lips and face), difficulty breathing (either because of swelling in the throat or an asthmatic reaction), vomiting, diarrhea, cramping and a fall in blood pressure. This reaction can happen quickly within seconds or minutes from exposure to the allergen or it can be delayed several hours later. This can be frightening if you have experienced it, having support from others can be invaluable. It’s important that everyone knows the signs of anaphylaxis and how to quickly help someone having this reaction.
People that know what causes their anaphylaxis it’s ideal to avoid the trigger the best they can. Having others around aware of their allergens can help prevent and recognize an anaphylactic reaction. When planning for group activities, ask about all guests’ allergies and keep food and chemical allergens away.
During an anaphylactic reaction it is important to respond quickly and follow these emergency steps:
- Give epinephrine auto-injector at the first sign of severe allergic reaction
- Call 9-1-1
- Give a second dose of epinephrine (if available) if no improvement in their symptoms in 5 minutes
- Go to the nearest hospital immediately (by ambulance if possible) even if symptoms are mild or have stopped. The reaction could get worse or come back, even after proper treatment. Stay in the hospital for observation for as long as the emergency department physician suggests (generally about 4 to 6 hours)
- Call the person’s emergency contact person (e.g. parent, guardian, family member)
Let’s dispel some myths. Taking an antihistamine as soon as allergy symptoms appear will not prevent a severe anaphylactic reaction. Antihistamines are for mild reactions, and can be taken, but it is epinephrine that is required for anaphylactic reactions. Anaphylactic reactions do not always cause hives, they can look different between people and different episodes, for some it affects the airways more, others blood pressure, and some start with stomach cramps, rash, hives, or itch. If you suspect it is a severe allergic reaction, it is safer to administer an epinephrine injection than to wait and see.
It’s recommended to always have an epinephrine auto-injector readily available with anyone that is at high risk or has experienced anaphylactic reactions. The auto-injectors can also be kept available for easy access in the home, cabin, emergency kits, school, and work. Administering epinephrine can relieve symptoms and prevent anaphylaxis, but its effects can wear off as soon as 10 – 20 minutes. If emergency care is not within 10 minutes it is important to have more than one epinephrine auto-injector on hand. It’s recommended that at least two devices be carried at all times to ensure there is time to get to medical care and if there are any concerns with the administration of a device. A common administration concern is the needle is removed too soon and the person does not receive the full dose. This is why training and practicing using an epinephrine auto-injector is very important. Based on the distance to medical care and each person’s medical history more than two epinephrine auto-injectors may be recommended. Check for expired auto-injectors regularly, a PharmaChoice pharmacist can help with reminders. If an expired auto-injector is all that is available, it is always best to still use it.
Everyone can be trained on how to use an epinephrine auto-injector. A PharmaChoice pharmacist can train your entire family (including children), friends, and co-workers. Watch available videos from the manufacturer online and through mobile phone apps. Sharing a personalized anaphylaxis action plan with family, friends, and colleagues is an important step in prevention and being prepared. Together we can help people who are at risk for anaphylactic reactions have a safe and enjoyable summer.