Hesperian Health Guides

Allergy: Mild or Severe (Anaphylaxis)

Mild allergies are caused by dust, pollen, insect bites, or certain foods, chemicals or medicines. These are usually treatable with antihistamines.

Signs of a mild allergy
a person having a mild allergic reaction.
Itching, swollen,
red eyes
Rash or redness
several swollen bites on a person's leg.
If there is an insect
bite, it may swell

A severe allergic reaction is much more dangerous and can quickly stop someone’s breathing.

Signs of a severe allergy (anaphylaxis)

  • Flushing, itching, or rash
  • Swollen lips, mouth, or throat, difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swollen hands or feet
  • Nausea or stomachache

The most common signs are rash and breathing problems.

If the person cannot swallow, or is having trouble breathing, give epinephrine right away. You can give another dose in 5 to 15 minutes if necessary.

Epinephrine comes in different strengths and different amounts may be needed to give the same dose. Figure out the correct amount and have it ready in a medicine kit before emergencies happen. Or stock a pre‑loaded injection, called an EpiPen or known by other brand names.

Inject epinephrine in the thigh muscle, here:

An arrow points to the outer thigh of a woman whose feet are propped on several pillows.
Elevate the feet above the heart

For breathing problems you can also give salbutamol. It is also a good idea to give an antihistamine.

In most cases, if you ever have an allergic reaction to a medicine, food, bee sting, or something else, you should avoid it forever after. The second time you are exposed you can expect an even worse reaction.

This page was updated:05 Feb 2020