Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Suffering from allergies and anaphylaxis

When you suffer from an allergy, your body responds in an exaggerated way
to an allergen. Various allergens exist, including: foods (for example, peanuts,
fish, eggs), insect bites (for example, bee or wasp stings), drugs (for example,
antibiotics such as penicillin or aspirin-type medicines) or exposure to a new
drug (for example, you’ve been vaccinated). You may not always know, however,
what’s causing your allergy.

Allergies may produce symptoms such as tingling on your tongue, swollen
lips or raised wheals on your skin (you can find more on this type of problem
in Chapter 8, which covers skin problems). A severe allergic reaction, which
can start suddenly and progress very fast, however, is called anaphylaxis.
After being exposed to something that you know – or may not know – you’re
allergic to, anaphylaxis can show itself with one or more of the following
features:

✓ You notice skin changes such as itching, redness, flushing or swelling.
✓ You spot that your eyes, lips, tongue or other parts of your body have
swollen up.
✓ You feel sick and develop a painful stomach.
✓ You have difficulty breathing and notice a wheeze.
✓ You feel that your heart is racing away.
✓ You faint or collapse – along with a feeling of impending doom.
✓ You can lose consciousness if the reaction is very severe.

If you’re not sure whether you’re suffering from an allergic reaction and you’re
not too unwell, phone your GP for advice. However, if you suspect a severe
allergic reaction or anaphylaxis, call ‘999’. If you suspect anaphylaxis in someone
else, check out Chapter 24 for some more first aid advice.

Soothing stings and bites
In the UK, you’re unlikely to suffer any serious poisonous animal bites or
stings – although you can suffer a severe allergic reaction to what appears
to be a minor sting. Here’s the low-down on some of the more common bites
and injuries from animals:
✓ Insects: Stings from bees and wasps often cause some redness and
swelling but usually aren’t dangerous – unless you’re stung by masses of
them all at once (like in that Michael Caine film, The Swarm!). If you can
see the sting, try to scrape it out gently if you can. Cooling the area with
an ice cube can help prevent swelling.

✓ Larger animals: If you suffer a bite from a cat or dog where the teeth
punctured your skin, seek medical advice because bite wounds can
become septic if not treated adequately – even if the bite looks relatively
minor to start with. Be aware that being bitten by a dog or fox when
abroad poses additional dangers because of the risk of rabies – a serious
infectious disease. Seek medical help immediately.

✓ Snakes: The only poisonous snake in the UK is the adder, but fortunately
its bite is in most cases not dangerous (although children may become
quite unwell). Seek medical attention when you receive an adder bite.

Evaluating burns and scalds
Getting burnt or scalded is easy, because most houses are full of heat
sources. Burns due to steam, hot liquids, electricity or corrosive chemicals
are therefore relatively common.
Most mild burns cause just a bit of redness. A burn is more likely to be more
severe under these circumstances:

✓ You notice that your skin is broken as a result of the burn.
✓ You develop more than one or two smaller blisters.
✓ You see that your skin is charred.
✓ You suffer burns to a larger area.

Seek medical advice urgently, and take the following steps to prevent any further
damage:
1. Remove the cause of the burn (for example, put out the flames, switch
off the electricity or remove clothes soaked in hot fluids).
2. Cool the affected area of your body with plenty of cold water, ideally
under a running tap.

Don’t put any creams or ointment on your burnt skin, because you may do
more harm than good. If you suffer severe burns that involve the insides of
your hands, your head and neck, or the insides of your elbows and knees, or
you inhale a lot of smoke, seek medical advice immediately or call ‘999’. Do
so especially when you’re short of breath, because your breathing may get
worse. You can suffer cyanide poisoning from smouldering plastic, leading to
headaches, dizziness or even seizures.

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