Allergic Reactions: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Normally, the immune system defends your body against bacteria and viruses. However, in some cases, your immune system may fight substances that typically don’t pose a threat to the human body. When your body reacts to these substances, it causes an allergic reaction, which is often more than a nuisance; an allergic reaction can be life-threatening. You can have Houston allergic reaction after eating, touching, or inhaling an allergen. Your immune system reaction can inflame your skin, airways, sinuses, or digestive system. Most allergies can’t be cured, but there are effective treatments to relieve allergy symptoms.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction

Allergic reactions range from mild to severe, and the symptoms depend on the substance involved. Exposure to an allergen for the first time may cause mild symptoms, but symptoms may worsen if you repeatedly come into contact with the allergen. Signs of a mild allergic reaction can include itching, rash, hives, and watery or itchy eyes. Nasal congestion, sneezing, and scratchy throat are also possible symptoms.

Most cases of severe allergic reactions stem from insect stings, medications, and food. For a severe allergic reaction, one may experience:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Anxiety or fear
  • Chest pain and tightness
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Swelling in the face
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Unconsciousness

Some types of allergens can trigger a severe and sudden allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. It can develop just seconds after exposure to an allergen and usually causes life-threatening symptoms such as swelling of the airway, inability to breathe, and a significant drop in blood pressure. It is crucial to seek emergency medical help if you experience anaphylaxis because, without treatment, this allergic reaction can result in death.

What causes an allergic reaction?

It is uncertain how some people experience allergies, but usually, an allergy starts when your immune system mistakes a harmless substance for a dangerous invader. Allergies also appear to run in families, meaning you can inherit the problem. You are at a greater risk of allergic reactions if you have a close family member with allergies. Below are examples of substances that commonly cause an allergic reaction.

  • Certain foods such as peanuts, eggs, milk, soy, fish, wheat, and shellfish
  • Medications like penicillin or penicillin-based antibiotics
  • Insect stings from a wasp or bee
  • Airborne allergens, including pet dander, dust mites, pollen, and mold

Diagnosing and treating an allergic reaction

Your primary care provider can diagnose an allergic reaction if you experience allergic reaction symptoms. The doctor may order several tests, including skin, elimination-type, and blood tests, to determine what’s causing your allergy.

For a skin test, the doctor applies a small amount of the suspected allergen to your skin and watches for a reaction. The substance may be taped to the skin, applied via a small prick, or injected just beneath the skin. A challenge or elimination-type test is best for diagnosing food allergies; it involves not eating a certain food for several weeks and watching for symptoms when you eat it again.

Most allergic reaction cases improve with over-the-counter antihistamines and avoiding known triggers.

If you experience a severe allergic reaction, visit Houston Medical ER for treatment to save your life.