Allergic Reactions


Recognizing the first signs of a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) and taking immediate action with epinephrine (epipen) can be the difference between life and death. If you or a loved one, especially a child, has a severe allergic reaction, every second counts.

Thankfully, most allergic reactions are relatively minor and do not require epinephrine.  These reactions can be adequately treated with over the counter medications.

Although the reasons why allergies develop aren’t known, there are some substances that commonly cause an allergic reaction. Allergies can develop over time or suddenly. People who have allergies are typically allergic to one or more of the following:

  • pet dander
  • bee stings or bites from other insects
  • foods, including nuts or shellfish
  • medications, such as penicillin or aspirin
  • plants
  • pollen or molds

The signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis (or a severe allergic reaction) can vary greatly from person to person as well as from time to time in the same person. Also, they may develop very quickly — within seconds of exposure to the allergen causing the reaction — or evolve over a longer period of time.

The most common signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • hives/rash
  • flushed skin
  • swelling

Severe allergic reactions (or anaphylaxis) can result in much more worrisome symptoms such as:

  • difficulty breathing/wheezing
  • pain or tightness in the chest
  • swelling of the lips or tongue
  • difficulty swallowing
  • abdominal cramping or pain
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness (vertigo)
  • fear or anxiety
  • nausea or vomiting
  • heart palpitations
  • weakness

How to Treat Allergic Reactions:

Thankfully most allergic reactions are not severe and only require over the counter meds for symptoms control.  For example, benadryl for itching and a widespread rash.  Topical hydrocortisone is effective for a localized rash.

However, anaphylaxis (a severe multi-organ allergic reaction) requires an immediate call to 9-1-1 and administration of epinephrine (also known as an EpiPen- if prescribed by your doctor) if available. Try to keep the person as calm as possible until they arrive in the emergency room.

If you are experiencing a mild allergic reaction that is not resolved with over the counter meds, you can make a trip to the urgent care for some prescription medications.