Handling Allergic Reactions and Anaphylaxis

Food allergies are on the rise in the United States. While most people don't think much of an allergy to peanuts, tree nuts, or shellfish, they can be life-threatening if you have a severe reaction. Anaphylaxis is an acute allergic reaction that can occur within minutes after exposure to an allergen and can result in difficulty breathing and even death. This means it's important to know what steps to take if you or someone around you has a severe food allergy or anaphylaxis.

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy is an immune system reaction to a specific food or food ingredient. The most common symptoms of a food allergy are itching, hives, swelling, and trouble breathing. People can have allergic reactions to many different foods including peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish.

Food allergies are different from other types of food intolerance because they involve immune system reactions that affect the skin (contact dermatitis), digestive system (eczema-like intestinal inflammation), or respiratory system (asthma). In rare cases where there's anaphylaxis--a severe reaction that includes trouble swallowing or speaking--you need to seek medical attention immediately as this can be fatal if not treated quickly enough.

What does it mean to have an allergic reaction?

An allergic reaction is a response to a foreign substance, such as pollen or peanuts. The immune system reacts to the allergen by producing antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) that recognize it. This causes inflammation and other changes in your body.

Anaphylaxis is a severe type of allergic reaction that can be life-threatening if not treated immediately with epinephrine (adrenaline). It can happen immediately after exposure or several hours later. Anaphylaxis symptoms may include:

  • swelling of lips and tongue
  • hives on the skin; redness around eyes
  • itching everywhere else on the body

When do allergic reactions happen?

Allergic reactions can happen at any time, not just after eating food. They can happen when someone comes in contact with an allergen or is exposed to a substance that triggers an allergic reaction. Allergies can be triggered by any type of allergy: food allergies, insect stings and bites (including bee stings), medicines like penicillin, and latex gloves.

In some cases, the reaction may be sudden; in others, it may take longer for symptoms to appear. People who are at risk of having severe reactions should always carry epinephrine injectors as part of their first aid kit (this includes people who have asthma). If someone suspects they're having an allergic reaction--whether it's mild or severe--get medical care immediately by calling 911 and taking them there immediately! It's also important to know what symptoms indicate severe reactions so you know when it's time to call 911; these include difficulty breathing/chest tightness/difficulty swallowing etc., hives covering more than 50% of body surface area(s), vomiting blood or bloody diarrhea

When should I call 911?

  • Call 911 if the person is having a severe allergic reaction.
  • Call 911 if the person is not breathing.
  • Call 911 if the person is unconscious and not waking up, even after you give them their auto-injector (if they have one).
  • If you think they may have had an anaphylactic reaction and are in need of emergency medical care, call 911 right away! You may be able to treat yourself at home until help arrives; however, if it seems like more than just minor itching or swelling has occurred--or if symptoms got worse after starting treatment--you should seek immediate medical attention by calling 911 or going straight to a hospital emergency room instead of waiting until your next scheduled appointment with your doctor later this afternoon (or tomorrow morning).

How do I know if someone has an anaphylactic reaction?

  • Symptoms of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can cause death if not treated immediately. Symptoms include:
  • Swelling in the throat or mouth, which may make it difficult to breathe or swallow
  • Severe itching everywhere on your body (even under your skin)
  • Hives (raised red bumps on the skin) and/or rashes that itch intensely around your face, neck, and upper torso; swelling around eyes; itching of lips; tongue swelling; hoarse voice or cough due to throat swelling
  • Rapid pulse rate (above 100 beats per minute)
  • How do I tell if someone has had a mild allergic reaction vs anaphylaxis? A mild allergic reaction may look like this:
  • Skin reactions such as hives or rash
  • Wheezing caused by asthma symptoms
  • Digestive issues such as nausea or vomiting

What are some signs of mild allergic reactions?

Mild allergic reactions can include:

  • Itchy mouth, swollen lips, and tongue
  • Hives (small red bumps on the skin)
  • Stomach pain, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Difficulty swallowing and/or wheezing or coughing (a sign of asthma)

What are the signs of a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis?

  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, and coughing
  • Hives or skin rash (red bumps on the skin)
  • Swelling of the mouth, tongue, or throat that may cause difficulty swallowing
  • Diarrhea or vomiting

If you see any of these signs in someone who has allergies:

  • Immediately give them an auto-injector if they have one available. If not, call 911 right away and get help from medical professionals as soon as possible!
  • Lay them on their back and raise their legs above heart level to reduce swelling in their body; turn their head slightly to prevent choking if they're unconscious.
  • Stay with them until help arrives

What should I do if someone around me needs emergency treatment for anaphylaxis?

If you see someone having an allergic reaction, call 911 immediately.

If the person is unconscious or can't breathe, administer epinephrine (adrenaline) as soon as possible. Epinephrine is the best medication for anaphylaxis and can save lives. You can get more information about how to use autoinjectors here: 

It's important that you stay with your friend until help arrives; don't leave them alone even if they feel better after taking their first dose of epinephrine! If the person has had multiple episodes before this one, ask them whether they have access to an autoinjector and make sure they know how to use it correctly before going out into public spaces like restaurants or movie theaters where there may not be any doctors nearby who could help if something goes wrong during dinner time rush hour traffic jams caused by road closures due construction workers working overtime hours over weekends due lack qualified applicants willing take jobs requiring minimum wage paychecks working alongside immigrants without documentation status under threat deportation proceedings should employers decide to terminate employment contract due failure perform job duties satisfactorily despite multiple warnings issued verbally written emails sent via text message phone calls voicemail messages sent through social media platforms including Facebook Twitter Instagram etcetera no need go overboard here

Anaphylaxis can be deadly, so it is important to get help right away.

If you are with someone who has an allergic reaction, it's important to stay calm and get help right away. Call 911 immediately and give epinephrine if you have it. Do not delay treatment! If you don't have an auto-injector, call 911 anyway--they will provide instructions on how to administer epinephrine via injection or intramuscularly (into the muscle). If you don't know how much epinephrine to give and your friend isn't responding well after using their auto-injector, call 911 again or take them directly to the emergency room for further treatment.

Do not give food or water at any time during anaphylaxis because doing so may cause vomiting which could lead to choking on food particles that have been aspirated into the lungs (breathed into). Do not give antihistamines because these medications can worsen symptoms by causing the narrowing of blood vessels leading directly into organs such as kidneys and brain tissue resulting in decreased oxygen supply throughout body systems including heart muscles which could lead to being fatal if left untreated long enough without medical attention being sought out quickly enough before irreversible damage occurs due to lack thereof oxygen supply being restored back into normal levels again soon enough."


Anaphylaxis is a serious condition that can be deadly if not treated quickly. If you know someone who has an allergy, it's important to understand what signs of an allergic reaction look like and how to help them in case they have one. Anaphylaxis can happen anywhere--at home or work, on public transportation or at school--so knowing first aid techniques will give you peace of mind knowing that if something happens, there are steps you can take right away before calling 911 or seeking medical attention from professionals nearby.


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