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Learn How to Handle Allergic Reactions

Food-related allergic reactions are life-threatening to 15 million Americans. With many more non-food related allergies, everyone should know what to do in this kind of emergency.
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Allergies are common. Annoyingly common. From the mild nose-plugging that plagues us in spring during pollen season to the life-threatening Anaphylaxis that comes from merely touching the wrong substance, allergies are the immune system's over-reaction to what they deem to be dangerous. The problem is that many people don't know what to do when someone they know is having a severe reaction. 

I found myself wondering this when I came to work for eVitamins. A coworker of mine is dangerously allergic to anything with "nut" in the title (or even implied in its appearance). While I'm young enough to experience the beginning of the Peanut Butter Prohibition at public schools, I've never actually had to deal with someone close to me potentially dying from my lunch. I realized one day when she moved away from me very calmly while I pulled out my PB&J sandwich that I had no idea what to do if she had a reaction. Well, now I'm proud to say I don't have to wonder or worry any more. Let's start with the basics.

Most Common Allergies

  • Food Allergies - Peanut, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, sesame, corn, gelatin, meat or seeds
  • Drug Allergies - Penicillin and other antibiotics, aspirin or other non-steroid anti-inflammatory medications, chemotherapy and antiseizure drugs
  • Latex
  • Bug Stings

  • While these are the most common, there are others to be aware of. The most important thing is not to ignore someone when they say they can't eat, touch or be around something. Unfortunately a lot of these allergens come up in everyday life. Like for my coworker who had to take pictures of peanuts for this blog. (Remember she's DEATHLY ALLERGIC to them.) For those that haven't ever had an allergic reaction, identifying one could be a problem. 

    Symptoms

    Mild
  • Itchy or runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy mouth
  • A few hives
  • Mild skin itch
  • Mild nausea or discomfort

  • Severe
  • Short of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Repetitive cough
  • Pale
  • Looking blue
  • Faint, weak pulse
  • Dizzy
  • Tight throat
  • Hoarse
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Significant swelling of the tongue or lips
  • Many hives over body
  • Widespread redness
  • Repetitive vomiting
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Feeling something bad is about to happen
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion

  • Treatment

    Mild 
    If symptoms are coming from one area and system (nose, mouth, skin, gut), stay with the person and watch for any changes. Give them antihistamines if on hand or recommended by their healthcare provider. Alert their emergency contacts and watch for worsening symptoms. 

    If the symptoms come from more than one area, give them epinephrine.

    Severe
    Inject epinephrine. Follow the instructions marked on the emergency epinephrin pen. Depending on the make of the pen, it usually involves removing a safety cap or two, placing the needle-side against the outer-thigh and firmly pushing until the needle penetrates. Hold for 10 seconds.

    Call 911 immediately. Lay them flat and raise their legs to keep them calm. Keep them warm. If they have trouble breathing or are vomiting, let them sit up or lay on their side. If symptoms do not improve or return, epinephrine can be given again 5 minutes after the last dose. Alert emergency contacts. 

    Take them to the ER even if symptoms have subsided as they may return. 


    Prevention

    Whether you feel confident in handling a life-threatening situation or comfortable in the gained knowledge above, the best course of treatment for allergies is always prevention. For many people, this is part of their everyday life. They are constantly checking food labels and keeping clear of latex gloves while carrying around a pen that could be the one thing that saves their life. The least the rest of us can do is become more aware of this. It's a very easy thing to do.

    For me, I volunteered to take pictures of the peanuts separately while she was far, far away and then she magically added them into the image using photoshop. This way, we didn't have to test out how likely I was to inject her with life-saving medicine in the correct spot. All around, a better plan. So here's some tips: 

  • Talk about allergies with co-workers and friends
  • Label or alert common allergens in cooking if serving to others
  • Print out an emergency care plan for your first aid kit
  • Check your first aid kit at home and work for an EpiPen
  • Be aware

  • Hopefully these help you in the same way they helped me.  They've certainly made eating in the office less of a panic. And speaking to my co-worker has eased my anxiety by understanding more about  her predicament. 

    For more information on allergies or if you're worried you might have one, check out FoodAllergy.Org, AllerMates and The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology

    Let us know your tips and how you manage your allergies on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!
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