For people with food allergies, their allergic reactions can range from mild discomfort to severe and even life threatening. The only proven way to prevent an anaphylactic reaction is to avoid the foods or allergens that you are severely allergic to. Unfortunately, even if you’re being diligent, you may unknowingly come into contact with one of your triggers. Having an emergency plan in case of accidental exposure may save your life.
An anaphylactic reaction is an emergency that requires immediate care. Always carry an epinephrine autoinjector with you. If you are diagnosed with a severe food allergy, your doctor will likely give you a prescription this type of autoinjector, which you should keep on you at all times. This device is a syringe containing epinephrine and a concealed needle. You don’t need to be a healthcare professional to administer the injection. These devices are made to be easy to use by the general public and people of all ages. When required, this injection is made into the outer portion of the upper thigh muscle. It is designed to work even through clothing.
According to the guidelines laid out by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for the treatment of anaphylaxis, the injection needs to be given as soon as possible. Delays can very quickly lead to a rapid decline in the person’s condition, and sometimes can even cause death within 30 to 60 minutes after the onset of symptoms.
Epinephrine begins to work immediately, but sometimes repeat dosages are necessary. Do not wait to see if symptoms get better before calling 911, as this is a medical emergency. A trip to the emergency room for a proper medical assessment is necessary even if symptoms improve.
Anaphylaxis Emergency Action Plans
Once diagnosed with severe allergies, ask your medical care provider for an Anaphylaxis Emergency Action Plan form or card. These special forms are available to everyone with a severe allergy. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunization have their own available for download for patients and doctors. Other allergy-related organizations also offer similar forms.
The purpose of the form is to help you be prepared for an emergency. It contains important information about anaphylaxis and your allergy. It informs others around you what to do in case you have an anaphylactic reaction.
The forms include the following information:
- name and age
- other allergies
- asthma and other health conditions that make you high-risk
- signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis
- instructions on how to administer epinephrine
- the type and dose of epinephrine you carry
- emergency contact information
- reminders of the importance of prompt treatment
It’s recommended that you go over your Emergency Action Plan form with your doctor and have it updated regularly.
What to Do if Someone Suffers an Anaphylactic Reaction
Being aware of what to do should you or someone you know suffer an anaphylactic reaction in your presence could mean the difference between life and death. It is important to learn what the possible signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis are and educate people close to you about these symptoms, as well as the details of your allergy triggers. Both you and people with whom you are in regular contact should know how to administer an epinephrine injection in the event of a severe allergic reaction.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommend taking the following steps as soon as you notice the signs of anaphylaxis in yourself or someone else:
- Take away the allergenic food immediately.
- Administer the autoinjector immediately, if available, by injecting into the thigh muscle.
- Call 911 immediately.
- If at the hospital, call for the resuscitation team.
- Once given the epinephrine, the patient should be placed lying down.
The Mayo Clinic offers further steps to take:
- Loosen tight clothing.
- Place the person on their side to prevent choking if they are vomiting or bleeding from the mouth.
Some important reminders if you’re with someone showing signs of anaphylaxis:
- Don’t wait to see if the symptoms improve before giving the injection or calling for help. Waiting greatly increases the risk of death
- Antihistamines cannot take the place of epinephrine and could significantly increase the person’s risk of a life-threatening reaction.
- Emergency treatment is needed even if symptoms improve. This is because there is a risk of symptoms returning, even after epinephrine treatment.
Remember to tell your loved ones, friends, and colleagues where you keep your epinephrine autoinjector. Keeping an extra one in your car or desk is also a good idea. You may not always be able to prevent a severe allergic reaction, but being fully prepared to treat one such a reaction can make all the difference.