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How to Treat an Allergic Reaction

written by: Emjay Annavi Baclay • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 8/23/2010

People suffer from various allergic reactions, the symptoms of which may range from minor to severe. It is best to know the appropriate measures of how to treat an allergic reaction, depending on its manifestation and severity.

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    Allergic reactions result from the immune system’s improper response to harmless foreign substances, wherein the system perceives these substances as hazardous and invasive. Symptoms may affect a variety of body parts— skin, airways, digestive system, etc. Severity of these reactions may range from mild skin irritation, to life-threatening emergencies that require hospitalization.

    Knowing how to treat an allergic reaction aids in alleviating symptoms. Allergic reactions cannot be cured, but symptoms can be treated and prevented through self-care techniques, prescription or non-prescription medication, and other therapies depending on the allergies’ extent.

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    Causes

    The immune system naturally protects the body from foreign substances through its antibodies, white blood cells, mast cells, and other protective substances. There are instances wherein the system inappropriately reacts from exposure towards harmless substances or chemicals (allergens). Allergens may enter the system through landing on skin and eyes, inhalation, oral consumption, or injection; and the immune system’s exposure to them causes a release of histamines and other substances, which consequently causes allergic reaction.

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    Avoiding triggers

    For people who have an established history of allergies and identified causes, self-care techniques involve avoiding contact with the allergy triggers. These include being cautious of food constituents through reading food labels, using air filters, wearing masks that reduce pollen exposure, and staying away from windy and heavily pollinated areas.

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    Medication

    There are various types of medications employed to reduce allergy symptoms, which vary based on how severe the reaction is. Furthermore, medications may be bought as OTC drugs or may warrant a doctor’s prescription.

    Some of the most commonly used anti-allergy medications are:

    • Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) are usually used for mild allergy symptoms; for the relief of itching and runny noses, and skin swelling. Antihistamines merely block histamine effects but do not hamper its production. These may be bought in several forms—tablets, capsules, nasal sprays, creams, or oral liquid solutions; and are generally available over-the-counter but some drugs may require prescription. For severe reactions, these may administered through IV or directed to the muscle for rapid reversal of histamine’s effects.
    • Steroid nasal sprays are used in order to relieve the body’s inflammatory response. Examples of particular medications are triamcinolone (Nasocort), fluticonase (Flonase), and mometasone (Nasonex).
    • Decongestants such as oxymetazoline (Afrin) and phenylephrine (Vicks Sinex) may be administered through sprays that serve to unclog nasal passages. Oral medications include pseudoephedrine (Sudafed).
    • Epinephrine is usually used for severe allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis. It is injected to the person, while serving to dilate the breathing tubes, constrict the blood vessels, and boost blood pressure.
    • Corticosteroids may be administered orally, through nasal sprays, or through skin applications for less severe reactions. For more severe symptoms, these are usually administered through IV for immediate reversal of effects.
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    Immunotherapy

    When allergic reactions persist despite avoidance and various medications, another method of how to treat an allergic reaction is through resorting to allergy immunotherapy, or allergy shots, as recommended by doctors. This involves a series of injections of purified allergen extracts, the dosage and strength of which gradually increases.

    Immunotherapy does not directly treat symptoms, but alters the immune system’s response for future prevention of allergic reactions. The treatment requires months before initial results emerge and years may pass before a patient is entirely relieved of the symptoms.