Understanding the Most Common Types of Allergic Reactions and How They Affect You

An allergic reaction can happen anywhere, anytime, and can sometimes require a visit to the emergency room. 

More than 50 million Americans experience all types of allergies, including latex, skin and eye, food and drug, indoor/outdoor, and insect allergies. From common food allergies to unknown reactions to new medications, it’s important to know all the signs and symptoms so you can expect the unexpected.

Allergic reactions are hypersensitive reactions that occur when your immune system responds abnormally to allergens like pollen, dust, and certain foods. For a majority of people, these substances are harmless; but for those who are allergic, their reactions can vary from a slight rash to difficulty breathing.

If you typically experience seasonal allergies, check out our blog Nip Your Seasonal Allergy Symptoms in the Bud for practical tips to survive allergy seasons.

How does an allergic reaction occur?

After a person touches, swallows, or inhales an allergen, the body makes a protein called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Allergen molecules and IgE bind together in an antigen-antibody reaction which then leads to the release of chemicals (i.e., histamine) in the body. When these chemicals are released into the body, they can cause inflammatory symptoms, including rashes, sneezing, and itching.

How long can an allergic reaction last?

Reactions can occur seconds or hours after contact with an allergen, and some reactions may take more than a day to appear. Sensitivities can also be localized or affect the whole body, depending on the situation, and can range from mild to severe or life-threatening reactions.

What are the most common types of allergen triggers?

  • Pollen — Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is an allergic response to pollen that causes inflammation and swelling of the lining of your nose and the protective tissue of your eyes. Prevent a response by staying indoors when pollen counts are high, use air conditioning, and close your windows.
  • Dust Mites — These tiny organisms live in dust and fibers of pillows, carpet, upholstery, and mattresses. Dust mites grow in humid areas. Symptoms of an allergic response are similar to a pollen allergy. Try using airtight plastic and polyurethane covers over your mattresses, pillows, and box springs. You can also use a high-efficiency filter vacuum cleaner.
  • Molds — Mold is commonly found in damp areas such as the kitchen, bathroom, basement, as well as outdoors. Mold is a tiny fungus with spores that floats in the air, much like pollen. Spores can peak during hot, humid weather.
  • Pet Dander — The proteins secreted by sweat glands in your pet’s skin, which are then shed in dander, are another common allergen. If you are unable to remove the pet from your home, the second-best avoidance measure is to keep the pet out of your bedroom and main living areas, wash your pet frequently, and use air cleaners with HEPA filtration.
  • Latex — Rubber gloves are a major source for causing a latex allergy, which affects some people after repeated contact. Wheezing, skin rash, eye irritation, hives, and itchy skin can occur.
  • Food Allergies — Many people find they are allergic to certain types of foods. In adults, the most common allergies are peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish. In children, allergens can include milk, soy, egg, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish. Reactions typically occur within minutes of ingestion and symptoms can be severe.
  • Insect Venom — Insect stings can cause pain, redness, and swelling around the sting site for those who are allergic. Many people find they are mildly allergic to insect venom, but more serious reactions can occur where the swelling extends beyond the sting site. A reaction is treated with epinephrine (adrenaline).

How to recognize an allergic reaction

Your symptoms will greatly depend on what you are allergic to and how you come into contact with it. For example, you might feel sick if you ingest something you are allergic to, sneeze a lot when exposed to pollen, or develop a rash to a skin allergen.

In more severe cases, you could go into anaphylactic shock when stung by a bee or when you ingest peanuts or shellfish, as another example.

Here are some of the most common symptoms of an allergic reaction:

  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Itchy, red, watering eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Swollen lips, tough, eyes, or face
  • Sneezing and an itchy or congested nose (allergic rhinitis)
  • Itch, raised, red rash or hives
  • Stomach pain, nausea, or diarrhea
  • Dry, red, and cracked skin

If you or your loved one experience a mild or non-life-threatening reaction, visit your healthcare provider to determine your action plan and next steps. 

How to know if you have an anaphylactic allergic reaction

Most reactions are either immediate (occurs within 24 hours of exposure) or delayed (occurs after 24 hours of exposure). Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of an immediate allergic reaction and can lead to sudden respiratory failure. This affects the entire body and usually develops within minutes of exposure.

Anaphylaxis symptoms include:

  • Extreme difficulty in breathing
  • Swelling of the throat or mouth
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Bluish skin or lips
  • Collapsing and losing consciousness
  • Shock

If you have a severe reaction, visit your nearest emergency room or local ER Near Me immediately for diagnosis and treatment or call an ambulance, even if the person starts to feel better. ER Near Me has four convenient locations, is open 24/7, and offers an extremely low wait time as compared with traditional hospital ERs.

What to do when someone goes into anaphylactic shock

If someone has symptoms of anaphylaxis, you should also do the following:

  • If you know how to use it properly and the person has one, use an adrenaline auto-injector.
  • Give another injection after 5 to 15 minutes if the symptoms persist.
  • Remove any trigger if possible (e.g., remove any stinger stuck in the skin).
  • Lie the person down flat, but only if they are not unconscious, pregnant, or having breathing difficulties.

Work With Your Doctor to Prevent an Allergic Reaction

Allergies can be seasonal or year-round, temporary or life-long, and immediate or delayed. Ultimately, each individual reacts differently which is why it’s critical to work with your healthcare provider to create a plan of action to manage your allergies and help you find ways to avoid them and prevent an allergic reaction.

ER Near Me July Offer Most Common Allergic Reaction Triggers