When to Go to the ER for an Allergic Reaction

Every spring, you likely notice commercials for allergy medicine; or you may hear a news story about an elementary school banning peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to protect children with peanut allergies. Or you may be wondering what does it mean when you hear about So-and-So’s pet being hypoallergenic.

Many people all over the world are allergic to something. But what, exactly, does it mean, and how do you know when it’s time to go to an emergency room?

What is an allergic reaction?

Your body’s immune system attacks organisms that invade your body, attempting to fight off a virus, disease or infection. It’s made of cells and organs such as adenoidstonsils, and lymph nodes. While they work overtime to keep you healthy, sometimes, they overreact to harmless substances, such as pollen or peanuts. When this occurs, may experience a long list of symptoms that can range from mild itchy spots on your skin to difficulties breathing.

What causes allergic reactions?

An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system interprets a foreign substance or allergen as harmful. The immune system overreacts to these substances and produces histamine, which is a chemical that causes allergy symptoms such as inflammation, sneezing, and coughing. Allergic reactions can happen rapidly when you’re least expecting it. They can be triggered even if you were previously able to tolerate it.

Signs You Should Go to the ER

There are a couple of telltale signs that you should go to the emergency room if you think you may be having an allergic reaction. If you experience either of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately to prevent life-threatening complications:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Itchy throat or mouth
  • Difficulties breathing
  • Hives
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling of the mouth and throat (eventually can lead to closing of the airway)

What is Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is the most severe allergic reaction. If untreated, anaphylaxis can lead to seizures, strokes, respiratory distress, and even death. If you experience any of the following symptoms, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital:

  • Chest tightness
  • Tingling of the palms or hands
  • Flushing
  • Light-headedness

These symptoms can be unexpected and occur at any time. For people who’ve experienced them before, carrying an EpiPen injection at all times may save their lives.

What if you don’t know what triggered the allergic reaction?

While most people know what they are allergic to, for others, an allergic reaction may come as a surprise for adults who’ve never experienced them before. If this is your particular situation, it may be disconcerting trying to figure out what caused it in the first place in order to prevent it from happening again.

If you’re having repeated allergic reactions, your doctor may recommend allergy skin tests.

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