Immediate emergency action is required for severe allergic reactions, especially in cases of anaphylaxis. Use the emergency medications prescribed by your doctor and call 911 for emergency help, or have a friend drive you. For mild reactions, get advice from your health care provider and ask if your mild allergic reactions can be managed at home. In either case, any worsening of symptoms always requires medical attention.
In a severe reaction, the first priority is to administer any emergency medications your doctor has prescribed to you. Usually, the choice of medication and how it is given depends on the severity of the reaction.
- Epinephrine (EpiPen) - This is given only in very severe reactions (anaphylaxis). It is injected and acts as a bronchodilator (opens the airways) and constricts blood vessels, increasing blood pressure.
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) - This drug reverses the effects of histamine and may be injected when needed or given orally for mild reactions.
- Corticosteroids - These are usually given through an IV at first to reduce swelling and other symptoms of allergic reactions. These can also be taken orally for less severe reactions and a corticosteroid cream or ointment may be used for skin reactions.
In severe food allergy reactions reactions, it is also important to protect your airway (breathing) and your blood pressure. Your health care provider will make sure that your airway is open and that you are getting enough oxygen.
- Oxygen may be given through a tube into the nose or by face mask
- In severe respiratory distress, mechanical ventilation may be required
- In rare cases, simple surgery is performed to open the airways
For less severe, localized types of reactions (such as hives or other mild skin reactions) some of the following treatments are appropriate:
- Take cool showers or use cool compresses
- Wear clothing that doesn't irritate your skin
- Apply calamine lotion or take over-the-counter antihistamines to alleviate itching
For all other reactions, especially severe reactions, self-treatment is not recommended.
SOURCE: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care. First created 1995; fully updated 1998; most recently updated 2005.
© Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) Editorial Board