An allergy is an overreaction of the body’s immune system (natural defense system that helps fight diseases) to a particular food or substance. Normally the immune system produces antibodies to fight bacteria and viruses and help protect the body from infections. In an allergic reaction, the immune system starts fighting the usually harmless substances (like dust mites, medicine, and pollen), as though these substances were “invaders” or were trying to attack the body. This overreaction to a harmless substance (allergen) is known as hypersensitivity or an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction can cause a rash, a runny nose, itchy eyes, nausea, trouble breathing and diarrhea.
Allergic reactions may not occur the first time you are exposed to allergens but you may experience allergy symptoms after subsequent exposure. This is due to the response of the immune system.
Allergens can be anything such as medications (ibuprofen and sulfur drugs), food (shrimp, shellfish, peanuts and eggs), insect bites, animal dander (fur from pets), viruses, bacteria, dust, pollen and some plants. Allergic reactions can occur in one spot, such as a skin rash, face bumps, itchy eyes, or all over the body such as hives.
At some point in their life, many people will experience allergic reactions. Hypersensitivity normally starts as mild but may become annoying, sudden and life-threatening. If an allergic reaction becomes severe, it may lead to anaphylaxis-a life-threatening condition that impairs breathing system causes ear problems and sends the body into a shock.
Allergic reactions often occur along with other diseases such as sinusitis, asthma, ear infections and sleep apnea.
Common Cause of Allergic Reactions
Almost anything can be the cause of allergic reactions. Common allergens include:
- Medications- include ibuprofen, aspirin and sulfur drugs. The severity of allergic symptoms caused by both prescription and nonprescription drugs will vary with the medicine.
- Food-include certain foods, such as shrimp, shellfish, peanuts and egg and cow’s milk. Food allergies are common with people who have inherited a tendency to develop allergic reactions.
- Insect bites and stings. Poisons and other toxins in the insect venom normally enter your skin when stung or bitten by an insect. Allergic reactions occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to the insect’s stinging venom.
- Animal dead skin (dander) such as tiny flakes of skin or hair from pets. These are more likely to cause breathing problems than skin problems.
- Latex such as those used to make gloves and condoms. Repeated contact with natural rubber such as latex may lead to one developing allergic reactions.
- Seasonal allergic rhinitis (known as hay fever) is a type of allergic reaction that occurs during spring and summer or early fall and is caused by mold spores, grass and tree pollen
- Allergic reactions triggered by minor injuries, hot or cold temperatures, stress, emotions, and exercise.
- Allergies due to household chemicals, such as detergents, hair dyes as well as cosmetics, such as hair extensions, artificial nails, and henna tattoos.
- Sun exposure can trigger allergic reactions to some people. This is known as “sun poisoning”.
- Infections from viruses or bacteria- Allergies can be triggered by certain medical conditions such as asthma, nasal polyps, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), nasal sinuses, eczema and respiratory tract.
- Dust mites
- Grass and tree pollen (allergic rhinitis or hay fever)
- Signs and symptoms of allergic reaction
Allergy symptoms happen quickly immediately someone is exposed to an allergen. Such symptoms include:
- Skin: sudden raised red itchy rash (hives) all over the body, blistering, irritation, crusting, weeping and eruptions.
- Stomach: pain, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea.
- Head: swelling or bumps on the neck and face, lips, eyelids, throat, tongue, headaches, and hoarseness of voice.
- Lungs: wheezing, tightness, coughing and shortness of breath
- Nose: A runny or blocked nose, stuffy nose, sneezing and postnasal drip.
- Eyes: Red, itchy a swollen and watery eyes
- Fatigue, dizziness, and sore throat or worsening of eczema and asthma symptoms
When to visit an allergist
You should see your allergist immediately your child starts developing allergic symptoms because allergic symptoms can progress and worsen within a short period of time. Your allergist will diagnose the child to determine the cause of the allergic reaction. If it is a mild allergic reaction, your allergist will offer an advice on the best treatment to help manage the condition. If your child’s allergy is particularly severe your allergist may perform special diagnosis and advice on the best treatment.
If your child’s allergic symptoms of allergic reaction worsen or do not improve even after recommended prescriptions, call a doctor immediately.
It is important to note the difference between an allergy, sensitivity, and intolerance.
An allergy is an overreaction produced by the body’s immune system when exposed to normally harmless substances or situations.
Sensitivity is the exaggeration of the normal effects of a substance. A typical example is when the caffeine in coffee causes extreme symptoms such as trembling and palpitations.
Intolerance is when a substance causes unpleasant symptoms, such as diarrhea, but the immune system isn’t involved. If your child has an intolerance to a particular food, they should take only certain amounts at a time.
Allergic reaction diagnosis
An allergist will examine a child by asking questions about their symptoms and timing. Normally blood tests and X-ray are not needed except in unique situations. In the case of severe allergic reactions, the allergist will make an urgent diagnosis to determine the cause of the allergy. The following steps are used to by allergists to examine the cause of allergic reactions:
Skin prick tests: this is the most frequent safest and painless allergy tests and involves putting a drop of liquid containing the allergen onto the child’s forearm. The skin under the drop is then pricked with a needle. If the child is allergic to the substance, an itchy, red bump will appear on the skin within 15 minutes. Before going taking a skin prick test, ensure that your child doesn’t take antihistamines, as they can interfere with the results.
Blood tests: these tests can be used alongside skin prick tests to help diagnose allergic reactions. A sample of the child’s blood is removed and analyzed for specific antibodies produced by the immune system in response to specific allergens.
Patch tests: These types of tests are used to investigate contact dermatitis- a type of eczema caused by the skin when it is exposed to an allergen. The test is carried out by adding a small amount of suspected allergen to special metal discs, which are then taped to the child’s skin, and monitored for a reaction, for 48 hours.
Elimination diet: an allergist may advise your child to avoid eating a particular food suspected to cause food allergy so as to see the symptoms improve. After a week, the child may then be asked to eat the food again to check for allergic reactions occur again.
Challenge testing: a test called a food challenge may be used in a few cases to investigate allergic reactions. In this test, the child is given the food they’re allergic to in gradually increasing amounts, to see how they react under close supervision. Though the challenge test is much riskier than other allergy tests, it is the most accurate way to diagnose food allergies. Challenge tests might cause severe reactions, and are therefore carried out in a clinic so that severe symptoms can be treated as soon as they occur.
How to get rid of allergic reactions
In most cases, the best way to get rid of allergies is to avoid whenever as possible the allergens that trigger such allergic reactions.
If your child has food allergies, ensure you check the food’s ingredients list of allergens before giving them to eat it. To get rid of allergic reactions, you can help manage allergies as follows:
Food allergies- avoid certain types of foods that trigger allergies
Animal allergies- keep pets outside as much as possible or wash them regularly. Be sure to inform your child’s school staff about his or her allergic reactions so that your child could be helped when allergy symptoms occur.
Mould allergies- ensure your home is kept dry and well-ventilated. Deal with any damp and condensation.
Hay fever or seasonal allergies- let your child stay indoors and ensure they avoid grassy areas when the pollen count is high. As an additional measure, ensure that you limit the time your child spend outdoors during an allergy season. Let you child exercise a lot so that their body can produce adrenaline, a natural way to relieve a stuffy nose. Use mineral oil, baking soda, vinegar, club soda, for cleaning instead of harsher cleaning solutions that cause allergic reactions.
Dust mite allergies- make sure you use allergy-proof duvets and pillows for your child’s bed. You can also fit wooden floors other than carpets to avoid the house becoming dusty.
Insect bites allergies- if you child’s allergies are caused by insect bites or stings, ensure that they avoid that particular insect. Consider giving your child allergy shots to help reduce the severity of the allergy symptoms.
Allergic asthma- Be sure to get rid of cockroaches and dead insects in your home, as they may provoke allergic reactions in children.
Allergic reactions treatment
The available medications that can be used to control symptoms of allergic reactions include:
Antihistamines- these prescription drugs can be taken when you notice the symptoms of allergic reaction or before being exposed to an allergen.
Decongestants- for short-term treatment for blocked nose, prescription drugs such as tablets, capsules, and nasal sprays is recommended for children with allergic reactions.
Lotions and creams that help reduce the redness and itchiness, such as moisturizing creams (emollients). Calamine lotion can be used to reduce itchiness
Steroid medication- these medications include drops, creams and nasal sprays for inflamed nose and eyes, inhalers for asthma, and tablets for hives (urticaria). All these medications are used to reduce redness and swelling (inflammation) caused by allergic reactions.
Immunotherapy- this kind of treatment is recommended for severe allergic reactions. It involves exposing the child to an allergen in a controlled way so that the body get used to it and doesn’t react to it severely. The aim is to train the body to get used to the allergen so that doesn’t react to it severely. The allergen can be given as an injection into the child’s skin (systematic injection immunotherapy) or by a tablet that dissolves under the tongue (sublingual immunotherapy).
Allergy shots are meant to help the body to get used to allergens. They don’t cure allergies but they will reduce the symptoms so that the child gets enough relief. Allergy shots are given by your child’s doctor once or twice a week for several months. The shots are given in the child’s arms and contain the allergens such as pollen, mold. Dust mites, pet dander or been venom. The dose is increased gradually until the child gets what’s known as a maintenance dose. Thereafter, the child gets the shot every 2-4 weeks for 4-5 months.
When preparing for allergy shots, avoid exercises 2 hours before and after the appointment. This is because exercises boost blood flow to the tissues and may cause the allergens to spread out faster throughout your body.
These are set of symptoms that resemble allergic reactions but occur without a known cause. The symptoms include postnasal drip, sneezing, runny nose and stuffy nose. Nonallergic rhinitis does not involve the immune system. It is associated with complications such as:
- Sinusitis- an inflammation of the tissues that lines the sinuses
- Eustachian tube dysfunction- Eustachian tubes link the middle ear with the back of the throat.
- Chronic ear infection or otitis media
- Loss of smell or anosmia
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Nonallergic rhinitis symptoms can be triggered by:
- Car exhaust
- Laundry detergents
- Cigarette smoke
- Wood dust
The medications that can be used to get rid of nonallergic rhinitis include:
- NSAIDs such as aspirin and ibuprofen
- Oral contraceptives
- Blood pressure medicines such as ACE inhibitors
Asthma is a kind of infection characterized by inflammation of the bronchial tubes with as well as increased production of sticky secretions inside the tubes. The airways tighten, inflame and fill with mucus. The most frequent asthma symptoms include:
- Coughing at night
- Shortness of breathe
- Chest pain, pressure or tightness
Not every person with asthma will have the same symptoms in the same way. Some may have these symptoms together with other symptoms, all of which might come as mild or severe at different times. Some people may take a long period of time before they start experiencing asthma symptoms. Periodic worsening of asthma symptoms is called asthma attacks.
Asthma attacks that are common are usually mild. However, if your child experiences a severe attack, they should seek immediate medical help.
It is important to know the early symptoms of asthma so that you can take action to stop asthma attacks or prevent it from worsening. Early warning symptoms of asthma include:
- Shortness of breath or the losing their breath easily
- Frequent coughs that persists at night
- Feeling weak and tired when exercising
- Wheezing after exercise
- Signs of cold and allergies such as a cough, nasal congestion, sore throat, headache
- Trouble sleeping
If asthma is not treated early enough it may lead to asthma attacks. When asthma attacks occur, the bands of muscles surrounding the airways are triggered to tighten in a process called bronchospasm. As a result, the airways swell and the cells lining the airways more and thicker mucus than usual. The following signs indicate asthma attacks:
- Coughing that won’t stop
- Very rapid breathing
- Severe wheezing
- Chest pain or pressure
- Panic and feeling of anxiety
- Pale, sweaty face
- Tightened neck and chest muscles (retractions)
- Difficulty talking
- Blue lips o fingernails
The immediate treatment of asthma attacks is an asthma inhaler or bronchodilator. Other asthma treatments include steroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs, prednisone and bronchial thermoplasty. The best self-care strategies that can help reduce asthma attacks include using a peak flow meter to check for impending asthma attack, developing and action plan with the child’s doctor, keeping an asthma diary to keep track of asthma symptoms, controlling asthma triggers and using air filters to reduce the allergens that can trigger asthma symptoms.
Anaphylaxis is the most frequent severe and life-threatening allergic reaction that requires immediate medical treatment when it occurs. Anaphylaxis symptoms include breathing difficulty, dizziness or fainting due to dropping blood pressure and a swelling or raised itchy rash all over the body. In anaphylaxis, histamines are released generally in the bloodstream which can trigger allergic reactions if one is exposed to allergens.
Anaphylactic reactions are caused by:
- Certain foods, such as shellfish, tree nuts, shrimp and peanuts
- Insect stings and bites
- Drugs and contrast agents
- When a child is experiencing anaphylactic reactions, the following symptoms may present:
- Swelling of tongue or throat
- Difficulty in speaking or swallowing
- Difficulty in breathing
- Dizziness or the body goes to a shock
The first-line treatment of anaphylaxis is adrenaline (epinephrine) given through intramuscular injection. It works by reducing swelling, relieving the wheeze, and improving blood pressure.