Many people have allergies to various foods, medicines and insect stings. Some people’s allergies are quite mild. But others can have a severe, life-threatening, allergic reaction called Anaphylaxis, which can cause them to have difficulty breathing, skin reactions and altered heart rhythms.
For those with severe allergies, eating the wrong food, taking the wrong medicine or being stung by an insect can literally cause death in minutes. So, it helps to know what to do.
Generally, people who do have severe allergies will know about them and should be aware enough to tell you that they think they are having an allergic reaction. But sometimes they don’t know themselves or they are unaware that they have eaten something or been stung by something.
The most immediate symptoms of an allergic reaction are the person saying their lips, tongue or throat are “tingling” or swelling. Then they may start to have difficulty breathing as their airways narrow. They can become dizzy or get hives, welts, an itchy red rash or other skin reactions. They can very quickly pass out or go floppy, especially if they are a young child.
Many people with an allergy will carry an auto-injector or “EpiPen”, which provides an immediate shot of adrenaline to help the body fight back against the effects of the allergic reaction.
If you suspect the person is going into anaphylactic shock, ask if they have an EpiPen. If they do, help them get it and administer it. (If they pass out before they can use it themselves, follow the simple 3-step instructions printed on the side of the pen.) Immediately dial 000 and ask for an ambulance and tell them it’s an anaphylactic shock case. Record what they ate or swallowed, or which insect may have stung them if they can tell you or it is known.
If after 5 minutes they have no reaction to the EpiPen give them another shot if they have a second one.
If it’s a milder allergic reaction get them to sit down, relax and start breathing slowly and calmly. Remove the source of the allergen if you can. If you think it’s something they’ve eaten, get them to quickly rinse out their mouth with several mouthfuls of water to help remove any traces left in their mouth. If it’s an insect sting, check to see if any part of the sting remains and remove it by flicking it out to the side with your fingernail or the edge of a credit card. (Never use tweezers to pull out a sting straight out as
squeezing it can inject more venom into the skin.)
If you have any antihistamines (such as Zyrtec, Telfast or Claratyne) get the person to take one as this can slow down the body’s reaction. Stay with the person, helping to keep them calm and monitor them very closely. If their symptoms start to get worse call for an ambulance. If they continue to deteriorate or they stop breathing, immediately apply CPR.
Allergies are quite common these days so stay alert for them, particularly in young children. Stay calm and stay with them throughout any allergic reaction as any panic will only make their symptoms worse.