While many allergic disorders are extremely bothersome to various individuals, there are a few types of allergies that can be very serious and/or life-threatening. Even though the number of fatalities due to allergies occurs in a very small percentage of the population, they do occasionally unfortunately occur and there are generally avoidable if individuals are careful and follow the advice of their allergist.
One major type of allergy that may be life-threatening is insect sting allergies which in most of the U.S. is usually due to stings by bees, wasps, white-faced hornets, yellow-faced hornets, and/or yellow jackets. In the southern part of the U.S., it may also include fire ant stings. Most individuals that are stung by one of these insects do not have serious adverse effects, however, a small percentage will have an anaphylactic reaction in which some of the following symptoms may occur: generalized itching, hives, swelling of the throat or tongue, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, feeling faint, and/or drop in blood pressure. People who have ever experienced any of the above signs or symptoms should always go the closest emergency room and should always follow up with a board certified, DC allergist such as the ones at Black & Kletz Allergy. It is necessary for the patient to receive critical information about preventative measures they should employ in order to minimize their chances of being stung. Allergy testing to the various venoms of the insects are done depending on the reaction the patient describes after his or her sting. Venom immunotherapy (i.e., venom allergy shots) are crucial for individuals who have had a systemic reaction to an insect sting in conjunction with a positive allergy skin test to the venoms. All patients are prescribed a self-injectable epinephrine device (e.g., EpiPen, Adrenaclick) to carry with them at all times. They are shown the correct way to use the device and are told to always go to the closest emergency room if they ever use the epinephrine.
A second type of life-threatening allergy which is increasing in prevalence is food allergies. The symptoms of food allergies can vary from a very mild reaction to a severe anaphylactic reaction. Peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish are the most common types of foods that cause severe reactions, but milk, eggs, soy, wheat cause severe reactions in various individuals. It is important to note that any food, food dye, or preservative in a food can cause life-threatening systemic reactions in any individual. Patients with food allergies should see an allergy doctor who can perform food allergy testing. Patients are taught about avoidance measures for food-allergic individuals such as reading labels, not sharing foods at school, etc. They are also prescribed self-injectable epinephrine devices, shown how to use them correctly, and told to go to the closest emergency room, if used.
A third type of allergy that can be life-threatening is a medication allergy such as penicillin allergy. As a general rule, any person can react to any medication in any way, however, most reactions to medications are usually “side effects” as opposed to a true drug allergy. Note that any individual can have an anaphylactic reaction to any medication as well. Antibiotics, aspirin, NSAID”s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), anesthesia medications, and pain killers are among the most common medications that cause severe allergic reactions. It is important that patients inform all their physicians and healthcare professionals about their current medication allergies, so that they are not given a drug that potentially may cause a severe allergic reaction. Allergists, such as the ones at Black & Kletz Allergy can test for certain medication allergies such as penicillin and caine drugs (e.g., Lidocaine, Carbocaine). Preventative measures are also discussed with patients during consultations with our allergists in order to help the patient avoid the offending medication and/or its derivatives. Patients are encouraged to wear MedicAlert bracelets or necklaces which list their medication allergies.
If someone has been seriously harmed by being given a medication to which he or she is allergic, and this was the direct cause leading to an anaphylactic reaction, they may want to contact a personal injury attorney. Likewise, if a food is improperly labelled where it does not list an ingredient that it should have included, and this mislabeling caused an anaphylactic reaction, one may also want to seek the advice of an attorney.