Allergies: Are you prepared?

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More and more people are showing signs of being “allergic” to many different things. For some of us it’s pets, environmental allergies, insects, foods or electronic devices. For others it’s medications. I wonder—are these allergies occurring more often or are they just becoming increasingly “visible” because we are more aware? Whatever the answer to that question, this article reviews some of the challenges and strategies we can use to prevent allergic reactions. We’ll also look at some ways of dealing with allergies.

Serious allergic reactions

Two of the most serious allergies are to peanuts and shellfish. Speak with your family physician about any side affects you experience when you eat either of these foods and refrain from eating them! Your family physician can prescribe an epinephrine autoinjector (e.g., an EpiPen), which contains an antidote to allergic reactions. It is important to carry the autoinjector with you at all times in case, unknown to you, these substances are present in something you eat.

Bee stings and other insect bites can also be quite harmful if they go undetected. Serious allergic reactions to these may also require the use of an epinephrine autoinjector. In addition, medication allergies can have quite serious side effects. Unfortunately, we may not know we are allergic to a medication until we have taken it.

There are several precautions you can take when you know you have serious allergic reactions . First, make sure your pharmacist and physician are aware of the allergy so it can be documented in your personal health record. Second, be sure to inform your family. Third, consider wearing a medic-alert bracelet or necklace. And finally, keep an allergy card in your wallet in case in a stranger finds you in the middle of a reaction and takes you to the hospital.

Allergic reactions vary from person to person and depend on the individual’s allergy. However, the most common reactions are:

  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty breathing
  • a red, raised rash (hives)
  • pain at the site—especially if an insect bite
  • a feeling of the throat swelling or “closing over”
  • swelling at the site—if it is a bite or an irritant that has touched the skin
  • loss of consciousness
  • death, if the allergic reaction goes unidentified and untreated

Protect yourself

There are many things you can do to protect yourself and your family from allergic reactions. Knowing what you are allergic to and taking precautions is the number one way to protect yourself. However, here are some more tips:

  • Be aware of your surroundings and know if insects such as bees, wasps or hornets have built a nest in your yard. Have nests professionally removed to ensure you are not stung.
  • Make changes to your environment to reduce allergens (see the sidebar).
  • Know your body and know when something just doesn’t “feel right.”
  • Let your loved ones know if you notice a sudden change in how you feel or look.
  • Keep a cell phone handy so you can make emergency calls to family or 911 if necessary.
  • Update your pharmacist and physician on any changes or symptoms you notice, especially after an insect bite or trying a new medication.
  • If you are unsure if you can eat a specific food (e.g., shellfish or a food that may contain nuts), try just a little bit at first and wait 15–20 minutes to see if you have a reaction.
  • Read food labels carefully. If you are eating out at a restaurant, “pot-luck” or buffet, ask what ingredients are in the food.

There are many things we can do to avoid allergic reactions all year round—not only in the spring and summer. If you are unable to prepare yourself or your home on your own, ask for help from friends, family or caregivers. They will be more than happy to help.

Be as organized as you can and enjoy the changing seasons!

Ten ways to reduce environmental allergies

  1. Have your furnace ducts cleaned every two to three years.
  2. Install an air exchanger on your furnace.
  3. Change your furnace filters every two to three months.
  4. Get your carpets cleaned professionally, or buy or rent a steam cleaner to remove pet hair and other residues.
  5. Reduce the number of carpets in your home.
  6. Keep your home well ventilated by opening windows and letting the fresh air in.
  7. Limit your pets to one area of the home to reduce pet hair and dander.
  8. Don’t smoke inside your home and ask others not to as well. In fact, reduce your smoking or quit all together, if possible. Your family physician can help you with this.
  9. Use water-based paints when doing home renovations to reduce harmful chemicals.
  10. Buy natural cleaning products.
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About Deb Jenkins, RN, BScN, MN

Deb Jenkins is a long-term care nurse. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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