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well…what? allergies and anaphylaxis

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It’s October! Not only can we start planning our Halloween costumes, but it’s also well and truly springtime. As the weather warms up, pets start shedding more, flowers release pollen, and dust is blown up into the dry air. Fur, pollen, and dust are common allergens, which can make spring an uncomfortable time for those who suffer during allergy season.

An allergic reaction is caused by the autoimmune system wrongly identifying an allergen as harmful to the body. The body will have a specific response in order to attack that allergen, usually resulting in the release of histamines, which in small amounts cause a reddening and itching of the area. In more severe cases, an allergic reaction can cause anaphylaxis, a reaction that can affect the respiratory, cardiovascular, skin, and gastrointestinal systems and is usually life threatening. Anyone who is aware that they are susceptible to anaphylactic reactions will have an action plan from their doctor, and will have been advised to carry that and their medication, usually an EpiPen*, on them at all times.

Allergic reactions often vary from person to person, even if they react to the same allergen. Reactions can include hives and skin rash, red and itchy eyes, sneezing, blocked or runny nose, breathing problems, coughing, headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. While there are common allergens, I couldn’t possibly list everything that someone might be allergic to. Plants, food, chemicals, including chemical products, mould, animals, insects, and medicines are all categories of allergens that have their own extensive lists of possible allergens.

If you think you commonly have allergic reactions to something, there are several tests that can be administered by health professionals. The most common test is known as the prick test, usually administered on the patient’s forearm. The skin is pricked many times and then suspected or common allergens are administered to those sites and the reaction is noted. If the patient is allergic, the area will become inflamed. Another test is called the patch test and it works in a similar way, keeping allergens against the skin with patches to see delayed reactions. This is only for allergens that affect the skin, such as poison ivy, gold, and nickel. Finally, there is a blood test that measures the antibodies that would be attacking allergens to determine your allergy status.

If you find you are allergic, depending on how severe your symptoms are, you will be given a management plan. Often, taking antihistamines is all someone can do in this would-be-lovely springtime weather. Washing your sheets, and particularly your pillowcase, more often than usual to get rid of dust, mites, and possibly pet fur, can really help if you get itchy eyes and a stuffy nose this time of year. Personally, I have a cat that loves to sit on my bed straight after I get up, so I’ve had to learn to do this, especially as she’s shedding like crazy right now.

While this isn’t a replacement for action plans and medical bracelets, Apple’s recently released iOS 8 offers the Health app and to help those with severe allergies and other medical conditions, there is a Medical ID section. The Medical ID is accessible from the emergency part of the iPhone, so users don’t need the passcode to access it. This feature is handy if the phone’s owner has gone into anaphylactic shock, has passed out, or is otherwise unable to communicate what is wrong. The Medical ID portion of the app can be filled out with details including name and age, medical conditions, allergies and reactions, emergency contact numbers, and medications. Users can even note if they wish to be an organ donor. Again, this isn’t a replacement for medical bracelets or action plans, but it could at times be more accessible, and any extra information that can be given to paramedics when they arrive on the scene will be useful.

Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe, and get in the way of your life. Learning how to treat and manage reactions, even if it’s only mild hay fever, can really improve your standard of living. If your friend or family member has severe reactions such as anaphylaxis, please read more on how to treat them should they have a reaction and go into anaphylactic shock; you could save their life.

For more information, always see your health professional. You may also enjoy these informational websites:

AllergyFacts.org.au

Better Health Channel

*An EpiPen is anepinephrine autoinjector and is used to easily administer measured doses of adrenaline.

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