Allergies are very common. We all know someone who has an allergy, from those with hay fever to those who have to avoid furry animals. In fact, allergies are thought to affect more than 1 in 4 people in the UK at some point in their lives. Although many allergic reactions are relatively minor, causing itching or irritation, in more severe cases they can cause anaphylaxis, a condition that can lead to respiratory obstruction and collapse and can be fatal.
In this article from CE Safety, we explain what an allergy is, the symptoms of an allergic reaction, and what to do if someone is experiencing a serious allergic reaction, such as how to administer an injectable Epinephrine – as part of our first aid training.
An allergy is the response of the body’s immune system to normally harmless foods or substances. Although these allergens cause no problems when exposed to the majority of people, in allergic individuals their immune system identifies them as a ‘threat’ and causes an allergic reaction.
Some of the most common causes of allergic reactions are dust, foods (such as eggs, milk and nuts), insects (such as bees and wasps), medicines (such as Penicillin), moulds, pets (such as cats and dogs, and other furry or hairy animals such as guinea pigs, horses and rabbits), pollen from trees and grasses.
Allergy Awareness Week is an annual awareness week which aims to educate people on different allergies and improve our knowledge of what can sometimes be a life-threatening condition. Each year, the event focuses on a different allergy. The topic this year is childhood food allergies.
According to Allergy UK, 40% of children in the UK have been diagnosed with an allergy. The four most common conditions in children have are asthma, eczema, hay fever and food allergies. A food allergy is when the body’s immune system reacts unusually to specific foods or food types. And while almost any food can cause an allergic reaction, some foods are often more responsible than others. Including:
- Tree nuts
- Some fruit and vegetables
Many children who are found to be allergic to eggs, milk, soya and wheat in early life will grow out of it by the time they start school. However, peanut and tree nut allergies are usually more long-lasting and food allergies that persist into adulthood, or develop during adulthood, are more likely to be lifelong allergies.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction
The severity of an allergic reaction varies from person to person. What could be a minor reaction for some, may be life-threatening for others. Here are some common signs and symptoms to look out for if you suspect someone may have been in contact with an allergic substance or food:
- A red, itchy rash
- A runny or blocked nose
- Eczema or asthma symptoms
- Difficulty or laboured breathing
- Red, itchy and watery eyes
- Sweating (or an extreme change in body temperature)
Allergies in children can be distressing for both the child and the parent. Alongside physical symptoms, allergies can affect the well-being of children in many different ways, including:
- Anxiety around a potential allergic reaction
- Avoidance of social events such as birthday parties and eating out at restaurants
- Complex relationships with food (including food aversions and refusal)
- Fear of using adrenaline auto-injectors
- Low self-esteem due to eczema or other visible reactions
- Sleep deprivation due to allergy symptoms, affecting mood and concentration at school
In some cases, prevention is one of the best ways to manage an allergy. However, when it comes to food, it is advised to avoid making any radical changes to yours or your child’s diet without first talking to your GP. For some foods, such as milk, you may need to speak to a dietitian before making any changes as they can be essential for development.
Antihistamines can help relieve some symptoms of mild or moderate allergic reactions. For example, these are particularly common for hay fever sufferers.
Adrenaline is an effective treatment for more severe allergic symptoms, such as anaphylaxis. Those with a food allergy are often given a device known as an auto-injector pen (such as an EpiPen), which contains doses of adrenaline that can be used in emergencies following an allergic reaction.
What is an EpiPen and what is it used for?
An EpiPen is an auto-injectable device that administers the drug epinephrine. It is a life-saving medication that is used when someone is experiencing a severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis.
Epinephrine is the only medication that works on the entire body, multi-system, multi-organ, for anaphylaxis, which is why it is the only drug recommended.
It blocks the progression of the allergic response by constricting the blood vessels, leading to increased blood pressure, and decreased swelling. This allows the muscles around the airways to relax, causing the lungs to open. Epinephrine also prevents the release of more allergic chemicals, which stops the progression of the allergic response.
Knowing how to administer an EpiPen is an invaluable piece of knowledge. Whether you are at home, out and about, or in any place of work, the following steps could help save a life:
- The EpiPen is best injected into the thigh. It goes through most clothing except kevlar (some motorcyclists wear kevlar trousers and people who use chainsaws and wear protective trousers). It doesn’t go through things people may have in their pocket e.g phones, wallets, purses, coins and keys. Check and remove objects if necessary.
- You then need to remove the blue cap at the top of the pen, to arm the pen (yellow cap if it’s a child’s EpiPen).
- Hold the pen like a dagger approximately 10cm from the thigh.
- Then stab the pen into the thigh and if it operates correctly you will hear a clicking sound. This means the pen has been activated. Hold in place for 10 seconds on the thigh.
- After 10 seconds, remove the pen and rub the thigh at the site of the injection for 10 seconds to disperse the medication.
Place the casualty in the supine position. If the casualty is struggling with their breathing, raise their head and shoulders.
Occasionally a person may carry two EpiPens. If the ambulance hasn’t arrived, a second EpiPen can be injected five minutes after the first EpiPen has been used.
Remember! Always ring 999 for Anaphylaxis (Anaphylactic Shock) even if the person has an EpiPen.
At CE Safety we offer EpiPen training as well as a range of health and safety courses, including first aid training and paediatric training which we have delivered in a number of schools and nurseries across the country. We also have a range of information available on our blog.