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An allergy is an immune system problem to a substance (allergen) that is normally harmless. An allergen can be inhaled, swallowed, or come in contact with the skin.

Signs & Symptoms

For Common Allergies

•  Sneezing. Watery eyes. Cold symptoms that last longer than 10 days without a fever. Dark circles under the eyes.

•  Frequent throat clearing. Hoarseness. Coughing or wheezing.

•  Skin rash.

•  Loss of smell or taste.

•  Ear and sinus infections occur again and again.

Signs of a Severe Allergic Reaction

•  Shortness of breath. A hard time breathing or swallowing. Wheezing.

•  Severe swelling all over, or of the face, lips, tongue, and/or throat.

•  Feeling dizzy, weak, and/or numb.

•  Pale or bluish lips, skin, and/or fingernails.

•  Cool, moist skin or sudden onset of pale skin and sweating.

•  Fainting. Decreasing level of awareness.


•  Allergic rhinitis. This is caused by breathing allergens from animal dander; dust; grass, weed and tree pollen; mold spores, etc.

•  Asthma.

•  Food allergies. Common ones are milk, fish, nuts, wheat, corn, and eggs.

•  Skin allergies.

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America 800.7.ASTHMA (727.8462)

Anaphylaxis is a sudden and severe allergic reaction. It occurs within minutes of exposure. It worsens very fast. It can lead to anaphylactic shock and death within 15 minutes if emergency medical care is not received.


Insect stings, nuts, penicillin, and shellfish are common causes of a severe allergic reaction.


How are allergies treated? Avoid the allergen(s). Skin tests can identify allergens. Allergy shots may be prescribed. Medications can prevent and relieve symptoms. Persons who have had a sudden, severe allergic reaction may be prescribed medicine, such as an EpiPen. This is used for a severe reaction before getting emergency medical care.

Questions to Ask

Self-Care / Prevention

For a Severe Allergic Reaction

•  Take prescribed medicine, such as an EpiPen, as advised. Then get emergency care!

•  Wear a medical ID alert tag for things that cause a severe allergic reaction.

•  Avoid things you are allergic to.

For Other Allergic Reactions

•  If mild symptoms occur after you take a medicine, call your doctor for advice.

•  For hives and itching, take an OTC antihistamine, such as Benadryl. Take it as prescribed by your doctor or as directed on the label.

•  Don’t use hot water for baths, showers, or to wash rash areas. Heat worsens most rashes and makes them itch more.

•  For itching, use an oatmeal bath or calamine (not Caladryl) lotion. You can also use a paste made with 3 teaspoons of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of water.

•  Avoid things you are allergic to.

•  Read food labels. Don’t eat foods that have things you are allergic to. When you eat out, find out if menu items have things you are allergic to before you order them.

This website is not meant to substitute for expert medical advice or treatment. Follow your doctor’s or health care provider’s advice if it differs from what is given in this guide.


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