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What are the types of allergic reactions?

Here in the Pacific Northwest, seasonal allergies are part of the landscape. From ragweed and tree pollen to dust mites and mold spores, there’s a plethora of triggers that can bring on watery, itchy eyes, sneezing and congestion.

But seasonal buds and blooms aren’t the only thing that can cause an allergic response. There are several types of allergic reactions, ranging from mild to potentially life-threatening. 

Knowing the signs and symptoms of allergic reactions is key to recognizing when to seek medical treatment.

What is an allergic reaction?

An allergic reaction happens when your immune system goes into overdrive when exposed to a normally harmless substance. Think pollen, animal dander or certain foods. Anything that causes this reaction is called an allergen. 

When exposed to an allergen, the immune system responds by sending out antibodies to try and remove the allergens. Histamines and other chemicals are released into the bloodstream, which cause allergy symptoms. Those symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on your body's reaction and how much of the allergen is in your system.  

What are the most common types of allergic reactions?

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, more than 50 million Americans deal with some type of allergy each year. Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.

Many things can trigger allergies. Here are the most common culprits:

●  Food. Food allergies are very common, especially in children. While kiddos often outgrow their food sensitivities, adult-onset food allergies are likely to stick around indefinitely. 

Common food allergies include:

  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish
  • Milk
  • Soy
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat

Food allergy symptoms can come on quickly, and it only takes a morsel to trigger a reaction. Common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting
  • Hives, itching or rash
  • Tingling or itching in the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
  • Swelling of the face, mouth or tongue 

If you have trouble breathing or swallowing: Seek medical care right away.

●  Contact dermatitis. An allergic reaction on your skin usually appears as a red, itchy rash after you come into direct contact with an allergen. Poison ivy is one of the most common causes of contact dermatitis. Around 85% of Americans are allergic to the plant. 

In addition to plants, jewelry, fragrances, soaps, makeup and latex may also cause a reaction. Common symptoms include:

  • Itchy, red rash
  • Dry, scaly skin
  • Blisters
  • Swelling
  • Burning
  • Hives

Contact dermatitis doesn't usually require medical treatment. If you have a reaction, there are ways to ease symptoms and prevent future reactions:

  • Discontinue any products that might be causing the problem.
  • Avoid scratching. It may worse skin irritation and cause infection.
  • Use calamine lotion, petroleum jelly or hydrocortisone cream to soothe the affected area and reduce itchiness. 

Let Indigo ease your discomfort: If at-home treatments don’t work, visit your nearby Indigo Health location. A provider will assess your symptoms and may prescribe a steroid cream.

●  Insect venom. Bug stings can be painful, but they usually don’t require medical attention. But for some, the venom from insects such as honeybees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants can cause an allergic reaction. Symptoms may include:

  • A large area of swelling
  • Hives
  • Itchiness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cramping, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Tongue or throat swelling

Head to the nearest ER if you have a severe reaction: Anaphylaxis may occur shortly after being stung. This potentially life-threatening reaction requires immediate medical attention, including a shot of epinephrine. 

●  Medication. Any prescription or over-the-counter remedy can cause an allergic reaction. But certain medications are more likely to trigger a response, including:

  • Penicillin and related drugs
  • Antibiotics that contain sulfonamides
  • Aspirin
  • Anticonvulsant medications

If you have a medication allergy, symptoms will usually develop within an hour of taking the drug. However, some reactions may develop days or weeks later. Signs of a medication allergy may include:

  • Rash or hives
  • Fever
  • Swelling
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath

Go on the record: Always tell your medical provider (and pharmacist) if you have any medication allergies and the reactions you’ve had.

●  Hay fever. Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, is caused by pollen in the air. This type of allergic reaction affects the nose and eyes and causes itching, sneezing and congestion. 

Hay fever can occur seasonally or year-round and can be caused by:

  • Pollen from weeds, trees and grass. (Pollen counts are higher during summer and fall.)
  • Indoor allergens like dust mites, mold, pet hair or dander.
  • Irritants like cigarette smoke, perfumes and air fresheners.

Hay fever is typically managed with over-the-counter antihistamines, nasal sprays and decongestants. 

Consider a permanent solution: Immunotherapy is a preventative treatment that exposes increasing amounts of an allergen to change the immune system’s response. Ask your medical provider if it’s right for you.

●  Mold. This allergen is everywhere – from your bathroom and basement to downed branches in your backyard. Symptoms to airborne mold spores include: 

  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Coughing
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Throat irritation
  • Asthma symptoms

While exposure to mold is virtually unavoidable, there are some things you can do to try and manage your allergy:

  • Use a dehumidifier or open a window in high-moisture areas of your home, such as bathrooms or basements
  • Leave inside doors open to encourage air flow throughout the house
  • Fix leaks and clean up spills to prevent mold growth 
  • If you see mold, scrub it away with a 10-percent bleach solution, or opt for a natural 50/50 solution of water and vinegar.

Put a hold on outdoor mold: Mold spores thrive in piles of soggy leaves and clogged gutters. When tackling outdoor projects, wear a mask and take allergy medication ahead of time.

When is it an emergency?

You should visit your nearest emergency department if you have severe allergy symptoms, including:

  • Difficulty or irregular breathing
  • Coughing, wheezing, itchy throat or mouth
  • Severe hives, itchiness, red bumps on skin, skin redness
  • Lowered blood pressure, rapid pulse, heart palpitations or dilated blood vessels
  • Nausea, vomiting, chest discomfort or tightness, abdominal pain and diarrhea
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, mental confusion, loss of consciousness, weakness and fainting

Find relief at Indigo Urgent Care 

The providers at Indigo Health can help you control your mild to moderate allergy symptoms. We’ll assess your symptoms on and prescribe medication to relieve your discomfort.

Schedule an appointment online or walk into your neighborhood Indigo. We’re open every day, 8 am to 8 pm, to provide fast, friendly care. And if additional testing or treatment is needed, we’ll refer you to a specialist who can help get to the root of your allergy symptoms.

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