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Acute Care Advisor 2018.1 © 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries

What is a severe allergic reaction?

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An allergic reaction is your body’s reaction to a substance that is normally harmless. A substance that triggers your allergy is called an allergen. Allergens can include foods, insect stings or bites, medicines, chemicals, pollen, dust, pet dander, smoke, or other things in your environment.

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Symptoms of an allergic reaction usually start within minutes to several hours after contact with the allergen. Allergic reactions can be mild to severe. A severe allergic reaction can be life threatening. You may have severe swelling of your lips, tongue, throat, or eyelids; itching; skin rash (such as hives or blisters); or trouble breathing. Your blood vessels may leak fluid into the area around them. This can make your blood pressure drop suddenly and cause you to go into shock. The medical term for a severe allergic reaction is anaphylaxis.

What can I expect in the hospital?

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Several things may be done while you are in the hospital to monitor, test, and treat your condition. They include:

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Monitoring

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  • You will be checked often by the hospital staff.

  • Your heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature will be checked regularly.

  • Your blood oxygen level will be monitored by a sensor that is attached to your finger or earlobe.

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Testing

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Testing may include:

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  • Arterial blood gas (ABG), which is a blood test to measure the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. It also measures the balance of chemicals (acids and bases) in your blood, called the pH

  • Blood or skin tests to check for things you are allergic to

  • Blood, urine, or other tests to monitor how well your organs are functioning

  • Chest X-rays, which are pictures of the inside of your chest to check for fluid in your lungs

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Treatment

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The treatment for a severe allergic reaction depends on the cause, your symptoms, how well you respond to treatment, your overall health, and any complications you may have.

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  • You will have a small tube (IV catheter) inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will allow medicine to be given directly into your blood and to give you fluids, if needed.

  • You may receive oxygen through a small tube placed under your nose or through a mask placed over your face. In very severe cases, you may need a tube put into your windpipe to help you breathe.

  • Your provider may prescribe medicine to:

    • Help relax your airways

    • Reduce swelling in the airways

    • Reduce your body’s response to the allergen

  • Your provider may recommend other types of therapy to help relieve pain, other symptoms, or side effects of treatment.

What can I do to help?

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  • You will need to tell your healthcare team if you have new or worsening:

    • Trouble breathing

    • Drooling or trouble swallowing

    • Coughing with chest tightness

    • Fainting

    • Itching

    • Lightheadedness

    • Skin rash (such as hives)

  • Ask questions about any medicine, treatment, or information that you do not understand.

How long will I be in the hospital?

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How long you stay in the hospital depends on many things, such as your general health, why you are in the hospital, and the treatment you need. Talk with your provider about how long your stay may be.

References

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Adkinson N et al. 2014. Middleton's allergy: principles and practice [8th ed.].
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American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Anaphylaxis overview. http://www.acaai.org/allergist/allergies/Anaphylaxis/Pages/default.aspx. 2010.
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Marx J, Hockberger R. 2014. Allergy, Hypersensitivity, Angioedema, and Anaphylaxis. Emergency Medicine Concepts and Clinical Practice (8th ed.)London: Elsevier Health Sciences.
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US Department of Health & Human Services. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 2011. National and regional estimates on hospital use for all patients from the HCUP nationwide inpatient sample. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. http://hcupnet.ahrq.gov/HCUPnet.jsp. Accessed April 9, 2014.

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Developed by Change Healthcare.

Published by Change Healthcare.

Produced in Cork, Ireland.

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

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