Allergy complications can be extremely uncomfortable.
An allergy complication can result anytime a person with allergies has a reaction. These complications range from mild annoyances to severe, life-threatening situations. Recognizing symptoms of allergy attacks is the first step in treating them.
For the majority of allergy sufferers, symptoms are mild to moderate. Allergens like pet dander and pollen can be quite irritating, but reactions are not life threatening in most cases. Rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal passages) and sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses) are two very common complications associated with allergies.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology states that allergic rhinitis can be in response to seasonal allergies, but it can also occur year-round (perennial rhinitis). Seasonal allergy sufferers are usually triggered by pollen and mold. Patients who suffer from perennial rhinitis often have indoor allergies and are allergic to substances like indoor mold, pet dander, cockroaches and dust mites.
Symptoms of allergic rhinitis can include sneezing, runny nose, congestion and watery eyes. Itching of the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes and ears is also common.
Acute sinusitis is usually caused by the common cold and occurs most often during the winter months. However, there is evidence that allergy sufferers are more likely to develop this condition than patients without allergies.
Sinusitis symptoms may include congestion, green or gray nasal discharge, postnasal drip and pressure in the face. A headache, fever and a cough that won't go away may also be signs of sinus inflammation.
Treatment for mild allergy complications includes over-the-counter and prescription medications. In some cases, immunotherapy (allergy shots) is recommended. If a patient is experiencing symptoms but does not have a diagnosed allergy, it may be beneficial to undergo allergy testing to determine the cause of the symptoms.
Hives are also known as urticaria. These raised red welts are often itchy and usually occur in response to food or medicine. They can also be a response to an insect sting. Patients break out in hives when they come into contact with allergens and their bodies release histamine. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America states that patients with hives can develop angioedema, a condition where the deeper layers of the skin swell. This swelling can cause deformities, and if the swelling occurs in the throat, anaphylaxis may take place. Patients should seek medical attention anytime hives form. Likewise, when symptoms of anaphylaxis occur, a patient should call 911 or go straight to the emergency room. Anaphylaxis is discussed in greater detail later in this article.
If a patient has had an allergy complication in response to a drug, food or other substance, care should be taken to avoid that substance in the future. Patients are encouraged to remind their doctors of any previous experiences with hives to ensure that the allergen is avoided. This is especially important for drug allergies.
Although it is less common, there have been reports of urticaria reactions to allergens like pet dander, dust mites, mold spores and chemical irritants. Antihistamines can help control and treat breakouts.
Allergies are closely tied to asthma. Allergy asthma is actually the most common type of asthma in the United States. The Mayo Clinic explains that for patients suffering from this allergy complication, the antibodies that trigger more mild allergy symptoms can also stimulate inflammation in the airways. This can lead to a dangerous asthma attack, so patients with allergy-induced asthma should carry an albuterol inhaler in case of an emergency.
Patients with allergy asthma have several preventive options, including inhaled corticosteroids, like triamcinolone, and immunotherapy (allergy shots). Reducing exposure to allergens and treating the allergies when they occur can help reduce asthmatic responses.
The most extreme allergy complication is one that can be life-threatening. Anaphylaxis usually occurs in response to food, insect stings, drugs or latex, and emergency treatment is necessary to decrease the risk of death.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, some signs of anaphylaxis may include:
If a patient exhibits any of these symptoms, he or she should seek medical treatment right away. Patients who have had reactions in the past should carry injectable epinephrine (EpiPen) in case of an emergency. This will allow the symptoms to subside but going to the emergency room is still recommended.
Since the sensitivity to an allergen varies from patient to patient, so do the symptoms of an allergic reaction. An allergy complication may be as simple as a runny nose and itchy eyes or as deadly as anaphylactic shock. Patients should take note of their symptoms so they can communicate with their doctors and get the appropriate treatment.