16 November 2011

Common Allergies. Part 2

Posted by Jody under: Allergies .

We love our pets, so allergies to our animals can be very emotional. The allergen is not the hair or fur, but the dander. Whether the animal is housed outdoors, such as a horse orrabbit, or indoors, such as a cat or dog, the resulting allergic reaction is the same. With outdoor animals it is easier to limit the frequency and duration of exposure than with indoor pets. Certainly avoid having the pet in the bedroom. Of all the rooms in the house, the bedroom is the most important one to keep as clean of the allergen as possible. For most people the term pet is synonymous with “warm and fuzzy”, which includes anything with hair, fur or feathers. This leaves turtles, hermit crabs and reptiles!

Insects. Insect stings and bites can be painful, annoying and localized, or can lead to a systemic allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, a life-threatening medical emergency. A server reation may include swelling of a whole arm or leg. This is not an allergy reaction, just a sever local reaction. Such a kit should be with the person at all times (see anaphylaxis). Wearing shoes, long pants and sleeves, and avoiding perfumes or scented deodorants can decrease exposure. For local redness, pain or swelling, a cool compress can minimize discomfort. Seek medical attention if symptoms go beyond the local site.

JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, reported that up to 5% of the U.S. population experiences anaphylaxis due to insect stings, resulting in 40 deaths yearly.

Medication allergies. While any medication could potentially cause an allergic reaction, the drugs most likely to cause a reaction are: the antibiotics penicillin and tetracycline; sulfonamides, antimicrobials used in the treatment of urinary tract infections; streptomycin, used to treat bacterial infections; and local anesthetics in the “caine”family, such as lidocaine and novocaine.

Signs of an drug allergic reaction include fever, hives, flushed skin, itchy throat, nose or ears. Symptoms of a stronger reaction may include coughing, swelling – “angioedema”.

You might notice flushed cheeks, and then with another dose find the redness has spread to your neck and is itchy. Call you doctor as soon as you suspect an allergic reaction.

To ease mild rash-like symptoms:

  • press on the area instead of scratching; scratching increases inflammation and itching.
  • keep cool, overheating increases itching.
  • a cool compress decreases discomfort.
  • distraction, such as listening to music, or doing something you enjoy, helps to decrease awareness of the discomfort.
    Food Allergies. While many people have adverse reactions to certain foods, less than 2% of adults and 5% of children suffer from a true food allergy. A food “intolerance” (which is not an immune response) may result in gastrointestinal symptoms such as the bloating, pain, cramping and diarrhea associated with lactose intolerance. Lactase (an enzyme that helps you digest lactose) drops and tablets can substantially reduce the unpleasant symptoms. A true food allergy involves an allergic reaction, and is most often a reaction to the protein found in such foods as cow’s milk, egg whites, peanuts, shellfish and other seafood, tree nuts, wheat, and soy. The reaction can occur right away, within a few hours, or can even be delayed – occurring within 1 – 2 days.

    Symptoms of a food allergy can be:

  • a skin reaction – such as hives, rashes or eczema,
  • gastrointestinal – nausea, cramping, diarrhea or vomiting
  • or respiratory – runny or sneezing nose, wheezing, shortness or coughing of breath. Other reactions can be subtle, such as itching in the throat or mouth, and can progress to swelling, anaphylaxis, and even death. Peanuts, seafood and tree nuts are the most likely to progress to anaphylaxis.
  • Food poisoning can cause violent gastrointestinal symptoms, but would not include the other more characteristic “allergic” reactions, such as hives or wheezing. In addition, others who ate the food would most likely also get ill, and the same food at another time would not generate a reaction. However, food poisoning can be serious, so do seek medical attention.

    Avoidance is the only way to prevent a food-related reaction, as there is no medication or vaccine currently available for prevention. For very sensitive individuals, this requires vigilant reading of food labels, with a preference for fresh ingredients rather than prepared/processed foods.

    Even minute amounts of the offending allergen can elicit severe reactions in hypersensitive individuals. For example, a cookie factory can inadvertently contaminate cookies labeled without peanut butter, with peanut butter. Once bite could send a hypersensitive person into anaphylaxis. Vigilance is also required when eating out, as ingredients not mentioned in the menu may be used in the food’s preparation. It is always best to specifically ask before ordering, and let the restaurant know you have a severe allergy. In prepared foods, the allergen may actually be an additive or preservative. If you can tolerate the food at home, or in fresh form, but not when pre-packaged or in a restaurant, this may be why.

    Reactions to food may be linked to other allergies from which the individual suffers. People allergic to ragweed, for example, may also react to melons. In addition, food labels can be confusing. For example, egg whites may be listed as “albumin”, or wheat as “gluten”. People allergic to eggs are usually advised to avoid the flu vaccine, as it is prepared with a substance present in egg whites. Also, since dyes are sometimes used in the preparation of certain medications, check with your doctor if you are allergic to a dye/food coloring before taking any over-the-counter preparation for the first time, or when seeing a new physician and receiving a prescription.

    If you have a food allergy, discuss with your physician the need to carry an emergency first aid kit or wear “medic alert” identification. See Diagnosis for discussion of the “elimination” diet.

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