Allergies affect millions of people, so chances are that you know multiple individuals who suffer from them. For most, allergies are mild or seasonal, causing some sniffles and sneezing. For others, food allergies are the culprit and as long as they avoid the food they’re fine. However, many people suffer from severe allergies that interfere with the quality of their life.
If you have a loved one with severe allergies, you know that avoiding allergens and dealing with symptoms is a constant struggle that requires vigilance and attention. This guide has many tips and strategies for coping with severe allergies and handling difficulties such as an anaphylactic emergency.
Understanding a Person Who Has Severe Allergies
Allergies affect people differently and run the gamut from mild to severe. Mild allergies are a discomfort and an inconvenience, but severe allergies can be life-threatening. In order to help a friend or loved one with severe allergies, you must first know his or her allergens so that they can be avoided. Understanding the following is the start to taking care of people with severe allergies.
- Environmental allergens. With environmental allergies, it is common to be allergic to multiple things. The most common are animal dander, molds, dust mites and pollen. These allergens trigger nasal symptoms and congestion, eye irritation, skin conditions and even asthma, often making it clear to your loved one what the allergy is. If he or she has a severe allergic reaction and are unable to pinpoint what the specific allergy is, see an allergist or immunologist for a skin or blood test.
- Food allergens. Food allergies, similarly, can range from mild to life-threatening. For some of the most severe cases, just cross-contamination from an offending food can cause anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a rapid-onset, serious allergic reaction that can cause death. It requires an immediate injection of epinephrine, medical treatment and a trip to the emergency room.
- Empathy. For many people with severe allergies who are used to others not taking their allergies seriously, just the fact that you acknowledge the importance and validity of their allergies alone is powerful. Part of understanding your loved one’s situation is empathy. It is difficult and frustrating to have to avoid certain animals, foods or environments because of allergies.
- Preparation. For children with food allergies, birthday parties aren’t just fun and games, but can also be a potential health threat. The constant need for vigilance is tiring. Needing to pay attention to small details, ask questions before visiting friends or eating at restaurants and all the other extra steps needed for normal activity may often feel like a burden. Being patient and understanding helps you be a better caregiver, friend or family member. Show your support by being proactive, asking ahead to make sure your loved one can be comfortable and safe before visiting a new location or a new dish.
Strategies for Caring for a Person Who Has Severe Allergies
Once you understand what your loved one’s allergies are, strategically avoid, eliminate or control them by doing the following.
Maintain a Clean Environment Indoors
If your loved one’s allergen is dust mites, be proactive. Buy allergy-proof covers for bedding, mattresses and pillows. Mites love to feed on dead skin cells on bedding, which also dig into the mattress. Buying a protective barrier is an important first step. Wash bed linens once a week with hot water.
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Other allergies such as seasonal allergies and pollen are difficult to avoid, as pollen can travel from miles away and your loved one cannot stay inside all day, every day. However, when indoors, keep windows closed and use air conditioning to avoid outdoor allergens.
Avoid Pets or Take Extra Measures
If your loved one’s allergen is a particular animal’s dander, keep in mind that the proteins found in the dead skin, urine and saliva of cats and dogs are often the culprit. The proteins go up the nose, land on skin and in eyes and are inhaled into the lungs.
The only way to eliminate the allergen is to stay away from the animal and its environment. If the problem is with a household pet, as it often is, and you are unable to part with it, keep the pet out of the bedroom and off of the carpet. Brush the animal regularly outside to get rid of excess hair and skin cells and help prevent shedding.
Use a Dehumidifier, Antihistamines and Decongestants
For mold allergens, use a dehumidifier to keep humidity lower than 50 percent, take care of indoor leaks and apply a bleach cleaning solution to any mold you find. Outdoor mold from vegetation can also become airborne and trigger an allergic reaction.
For all of these allergens and more, an effective allergy treatment proves helpful. While antihistamines, decongestants and nasal steroid sprays won’t cure the allergies, they do help reduce symptoms. Allergy shots or immunotherapy is also effective for many people.
Avoid Food Allergens and Don’t Share Food
A loved one with severe food allergies must avoid allergy triggers completely, sometimes including cross-contamination, because they are dangerous and sometimes life-threatening. The same allergy can manifest itself differently at different times, so it’s important to not make assumptions that this time it will be fine because it was last time.
Don’t share food. Beware of cross-contamination or second-hand contact with the offending food. Ask questions before ordering things off a menu or digging into a dish at a potluck. It’s always better to not take a chance. Your loved one and you should also wash hands before and after eating.
Notify and Teach Others About Severe Allergies
If your child has a severe allergy, meet with school staff to inform them and make sure you’re all on the same page and everyone is informed. Provide information they may need such as their allergy triggers, medications and emergency treatment plan and contact.
Be able to recognize symptoms of a reaction such as rash, trouble breathing, throat tightness or tingling in the mouth or tongue. Take symptoms seriously and don’t brush them off. They could be signs of anaphylaxis.
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