4 Lifesaving Steps to Treat Severe Allergic Reactions

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What if you suddenly found yourself in the throes of a severe allergic reaction-all alone? Would you know what to do and how to help yourself? If you're at risk for anaphylaxis (severe allergic reactions), the experts say that the difference between life and death depends upon you following these crucial steps:

  1. Recognize the danger signs. When experiencing anaphylaxis, sometimes the symptoms can start slowly and build, while other times they come on suddenly. In either scenario, the faster you recognize the warning signs, the faster you can treat them. Be on the lookout for symptoms such as hives, swelling, itching, warmth, redness, rash, dizziness, problems with breathing, and stomach distress. And keep in mind that even though the symptoms may lessen, they may come back later in a few hours stronger than ever.
  2. Give yourself auto-injectable epinephrine. You should always carry this lifesaving medication with you and make sure you know how to use it correctly. The best place to inject yourself is usually in the front of your thighs. You'll need to remove the cap from the epinephrine and jab the needle into the appropriate spot, right through your clothing if needed. Hold the medicine unit in place for 10 seconds. Then remove the epinephrine unit and rub or massage the spot for another 10 seconds. Don't be surprised if the medication speeds up your pulse and makes you feel shaky. These are common side effects and shouldn't cause any harm in most healthy people.
  3. Call 911. Summon medical attention immediately once you give yourself the injection. While the epinephrine should relieve the danger in the short-term, you'll still need emergency care right away.
  4. Repeat the epinephrine if needed. While you're waiting for the ambulance, if the symptoms haven't lessened, repeat a second dose of injectable epinephrine 10 minutes after the first one. Also plan to bring the epinephrine unit with you to the hospital so that the medical staff will know what you've used.

Prevention is Your Best Defense

While these steps are essential to keep you alive if you experience a severe allergic reaction, the best way to treat the problem is to prevent it in the first place. You can do this by becoming aware of your triggers and making an effort to avoid them. Keep in mind that even if your allergic reaction to a trigger has been relatively mild in the past, there's always the possibility that it could become more severe with each exposure.

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Sicherer, Scott H. and Simons, F. Estelle R. "Self-Injectable Epinephrine for First-Aid Management of Anaphylaxis." Pediatrics Vol. 119 No. 3 (March 2007): 638-646. Web. 22 Feb. 2011.

"Topic of the Month: June 2006: Avoiding Severe Allergic Reactions this Summer." American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. AAAAI, 1 June 2006. Web. 22 Feb. 2011.