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  » First Aid  »  Allergic Reactions and Anaphylactic Shock
An allergic reaction is an exaggerated response or hypersensitivity by the body's immune system to what would otherwise be a harmless substance. Allergic reactions vary from merely annoying symptoms such as itchy eyes and runny nose to life-threatening anaphylactic shock response that may result in death from circulatory collapse or respiratory failure.

In particular, some people are hypersensitive to insect stings, medications, and certain foods and food additives such as sulfites. Anyone who has had a serious allergic reaction should take the necessary precautions to avoid all future contact with the offending substance. Desensitization shots may be recommended if bee stings prompt the response. All allergenic foods and medications should be avoided as well as any drug in the same class or with a similar chemical composition. A Medic Alert bracelet warning of the allergy should be worn.

In many cases, those with a known sensitivity keep what is called an anaphylaxis kit on their person at all times. This kit usually contains epinephrine (adrenaline) and instructions on how to use this medication to combat allergic reactions.

Whenever anyone suffers an extreme allergic reaction, the person should be taken to the hospital as soon as possible even if the symptoms seem to pass. Secondary reactions may occur up to several hours later; consequently, this type of episode warrants close medical observation.

  • At the first sign of an anaphylactic reaction, the person should be transported to the nearest emergency room or other medical facility. Call 911.
  • If an anaphylaxis kit is available, administer the medications, following the kit's directions, and then take the person to the nearest hospital.
  • If the person loses consciousness on the way to the hospital and has no pulse or stops breathing, administer CPR. Do not waste time; this is a life-threatening situation.
  • Sudden appearance of hives; widespread, blotchy swelling of the skin.
  • Swelling of mucous membranes; the lips, tongue, or mouth.
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing.
  • Increased pulse rate or a weak and thin pulse accompanied by drop in blood pressure (shock).
  • Nausea, vomiting or abdominal cramps.
  • Lightheadedness or fainting.