Allergies can develop or be discovered at any age. Much of the time, an allergic reaction to a substance is merely annoying. However, a severe allergic reaction can be life-threatening. Family caregivers who understand why allergic reactions occur and what they look like can be more prepared to deal with a reaction confidently.
Why Do Allergic Reactions Occur?
Doctors don’t really know what causes some people to have allergies. However, they do understand what happens in the body. Normally, the immune system protects the body from infection by viruses or bacteria. When allergies occur, the body mistakenly tries to protect the body from something that would be otherwise harmless. These things are called allergens. When the body reacts to allergens, it causes an allergic reaction. An allergen can enter the body by touching it, eating it, or breathing it in.
Some common allergens include:
- Insect bites, such as bee stings.
- Pet dander.
- Foods, like nuts or shellfish.
- Certain medications, including penicillin and aspirin.
About 50 million people in the United States suffer from allergies of some type. Allergies often run in families, so they can be inherited. So, if your aging relative has a close family member with allergies, it is more likely they will also develop them.
What Are the Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction?
The kinds of symptoms your older family member experiences can depend on the allergen as well as how severe the allergic reaction is. Common symptoms of mild allergies include:
An itchy red rash, sometimes called hives.
- Stuffy nose.
- Stuffy nose.
- Scratchy throat.
- Eyes that are watery or itchy.
Sometimes the symptoms of an allergy to a certain substance get worse with time. So, for example, if the older adult is allergic to shrimp, the first time they eat it they may only have mild symptoms. However, the more they are exposed to the allergen, the worse the symptoms may get. That means that perhaps on the 5th or 6th time they have shrimp, they could have a severe reaction.
How Can You Recognize a Severe Reaction?
A severe allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis. It can occur within minutes or even seconds of being exposed to an allergen. During anaphylaxis, the body produces plenty of chemicals that could cause the older adult to go into shock. The person’s blood pressure drops rapidly, and airways become narrow, making it difficult or even impossible to breathe.
Other symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Hives, itching, or flushed skin.
- Swollen tongue or throat.
- Pulse is weak and rapid.
- Gastrointestinal symptoms, like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
- Dizziness or fainting.
If your older family member has allergies, a senior care provider can help them to manage the symptoms. A senior care provider can remind the older adult to take allergy medications to reduce symptoms. Senior care can also assist with avoiding allergens. And, should a severe reaction occur, a senior care provider can call for emergency help.