“An allergic reaction is common but usually the right combination of over-the-counter medications can help you treat the problem,” said Lee Ann Wetzel, PA-C, from SamCare Express in Albany. “In general, if a condition persists for more than a week or if it’s affecting your quality of life then it’s a good idea to seek care.”
Here are some common allergic reactions, and recommendations from Wetzel for what you can do at home and when you should seek medical help:
Itchy, Red RashThis time of year, walking outdoors could have exposed you to poison oak or some other irritating grass or weed. Topical products like soap, lotion and sunscreen may contain dyes or perfumes that trigger an allergic response. Cleaning agents like clothes detergent or tub cleaner can contain harsh chemicals that cause a reaction. Food and drug allergies may also cause a rash.
Try to identify the cause so you can avoid it in the future. Gently cleanse the rash with mild soap and water. Wetzel recommends hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to help with itchiness. If the rash persists after you’ve removed the irritant, or gets worse, seek care as soon as possible.
HivesWhile a rash is usually small red bumps, hives are typically large and swollen pink bumps. Hives can be triggered by a food or drug allergy, so try to identify the cause. An oral antihistamine can help you feel better but the condition will eventually go away on its own. Avoid hot water and use a cool compress to ease discomfort.
Sneezing & Watery EyesA common allergic reaction to pollen, dust or dander, using an over-the-counter medication like Allegra, Claritin or Zyrtec can help manage symptoms. Wetzel notes that each product contains a different active ingredient, so experiment to find the right medication for you. While most people experience relief with these medications, talk to your doctor if you haven’t found the right combination after about two weeks and if your quality of life — work, play or sleep — is suffering.
CongestionCongestion may accompany seasonal allergies, but typical allergy medications won’t help and those with decongestion agents may leave users feeling groggy. Once you’ve worked with your health care provider to rule out another condition, Wetzel often recommends an over-the-counter intranasal steroid like Flonase or Nasacort for allergy congestion. If you know your trigger it may help to begin using the product before you encounter it, so start a few weeks before ragweed blooms if that sparks your allergies.
Although it’s not that common, anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening and needs emergency medical care.
“Sometimes people are reluctant to go to the emergency department if they feel like their symptoms aren’t ‘serious’ enough,” said Wetzel. “A severe allergic reaction like anaphylaxis that needs immediate emergency care will be apparent because it will affect multiple parts of the body. You might not experience them all, but a combination of a swollen throat, difficulty breathing, hives, vomiting, rapid heart beat or fainting shows that your whole body is in distress.”
Call 911 and don’t try to drive to the hospital yourself. Anaphylactic shock can escalate quickly and emergency responders have support systems to help you if you stop breathing or your heart stops. If you have been prescribed emergency injectable epinephrine like an EpiPen, use it as soon as possible while you wait for help. This medication will improve dangerous symptoms like difficulty breathing and low blood pressure. Even if you feel better after using the epinephrine you will still need to go to the emergency department for evaluation as symptoms can return after the medication wears off. Be sure and tell the medical team what time you took the medicine and your dosage.
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