Allergies involve an overreaction of the body’s immune system, which is responsible for fighting infections. There are many types of allergies, including seasonal allergies (which involve allergic reactions to pollens, grasses and weeds), perennial allergies (which last for 9 or more months out of the year), chronic allergies (to allergens such as dust and mold), food allergies, medicine allergies, insect venom allergies, and animal allergies, among others. In addition, some people develop a potentially life-threatening allergy to latex, which is found in rubber gloves, while others can become “sensitized” to substances they have been repeatedly exposed to at work, a condition known as “occupational allergy.”

Allergic responses range from mild to life threatening. Common mildly annoying allergy symptoms include sneezing, congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, headache and fatigue. However, exposure to some allergens, such as peanuts, shellfish, insect stings, medications, and latex can quickly progress to severe life-threatening reactions or anaphylaxis. For that reason, seek emergency care right away if you experience a mix of some of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing (along with high-pitched breathing sounds)
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety, fear, apprehension
  • Slurred speech
  • Swelling of the face, eyes, tongue or extremities
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Severe sweating
  • Faintness, lightheadedness, dizziness
  • Heart palpitations (feeling one’s heart beat)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain, cramping
  • Panting
  • Rapid or weak pulse rate
  • Pale, cold, moist skin or skin redness
  • Blueness of skin, including lips or nail beds (or grayish for darker complexions)
  • Loss of consciousness

To help prevent the need for emergency care for allergy attacks, you can take the following preventive measures:

  • Visit your physician regularly. The continuing advice of a doctor is crucial to the long-term treatment of allergic conditions. Your physician may refer you to a medical specialist, known as an allergist/immunologist, who has received special training in diagnosing and treating allergic diseases. This type of specialist can recommend certain drug therapies or desensitization treatments (also known as “allergy shots”).
  • Know your allergies. If you and your physician suspect you have allergies, you may be tested to determine what is triggering your symptoms.

Read more here about anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening, multisystemic allergic reaction.

Anyone who thinks they're having a medical emergency should not hesitate to seek care. Federal law ensures that anyone who comes to the emergency department is treated and stabilized, and that their insurance provides coverage based on symptoms, not a final diagnosis. 

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