Excuse me…Do you have any allergies?

Allergy alert hospital wristband with blue medication tablets.
If you have been to a doctor’s office lately, I’m sure that at least one person you came in contact with asked if you had any allergies. If you’ve ever had a severe reaction to something you ate, drank, touched, breathed in or received as an injection (shot), you probably know that you have an allergy. But do you know the culprit or the “allergen” that is to blame for the chain reaction that follows?

An allergic reaction is when your immune system reacts to something you have come in contact with. Your immune system sees this “something” (allergen) as the enemy. The immune system then makes tons of antibodies that target cells that release chemicals which spark an allergic reaction. Many reactions are mild but in the worst case scenario, anaphylaxis can occur which is most often a life or death emergency situation.

As a medical provider, I’d like to convince you that you should know “what” you’re allergic to, and what happens when you come in contact with it. Your friends should know too! Why?, two reasons come to mind. First, because the very best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to AVOID what you are allergic to. For example, if you know you are allergic to peaches, you simply avoid the trigger, which in this case is “peaches”. Easy, huh? Well, most of the time it’s pretty simple but there could be some cases when you may not be aware that you’ve come in contact with what you are allergic too. This may be due to the fact that ingredients are not always listed on menus in restaurants, and if the allergen is environmental, you may not know that you have come in contact with it until it’s too late. Maybe the first time you had an allergic reaction the symptoms were mild and you blew it off, so you were not expecting the reaction and the worsening of symptoms the second time you came in contact with it.

When you are first exposed to something you are allergic too, the symptoms may come on gradually. Perhaps you’ve taken over-the-counter medicine such as Benadryl® which lessened your symptoms or even made them go away entirely. But what if your throat felt like it was closing, making it hard for you to breathe. This can be a true life or death situation, and the speed in which you and others react could save your life.

So how can you be proactive about your health when it comes to allergies?

  • Talk to your primary care provider (PCP) and find out if you have any documented allergies and what they are.
  • Ask your PCP if should wear an allergy bracelet and if you should carry and EpiPen®.
  • Write down what you are allergic to and keep the info in your phone, your wallet or another safe place.
  • Be sure to tell all of your health care providers at every visit that you have an allergy or allergies and what they are.
  • Tell your close friends what you are allergic to and what they should do if you have an allergic reaction. For example, if you are having a severe reaction and you are having trouble breathing, your friends should call 911.
  • If you carry an Epi-pen, tell your parents and friends where you keep it.

There are lots of ways to be proactive about your health. Knowing what you are allergic to and how you can prevent allergic reactions are at the top of the list!

-Nurse Phaedra