There are many types of allergies, but the most common include:
- Food Allergies - triggered by certain types of food
- Anaphylaxis - triggered by food, drugs, or insect stings
- Respiratory Allergies - triggered by airborne allergens
- Contact Allergies -triggered by allergens that affect your skin
- Insect Sting Allergies - triggered by the venom in some insects
Listed below are mild and severe symptoms associated with each common type of allergy.
Because each individual can have unique reactions, your symptoms may differ or may include one, some, or all of those listed. Call your doctor if your symptoms are severe or persistent.
Symptoms of a food allergy usually occur within minutes after ingesting the food allergen, although some may not occur for several hours. The symptoms may be isolated only to areas around the mouth, lips and digestive tract, or they may involve other areas of the body. Foods that most commonly cause allergic reactions include milk, eggs, nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.
- Itching, tingling or swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, or throat
- Tightness in the throat
- Difficulty swallowing or speaking
- Abdominal cramps and indigestion
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Skin rashes
- Congestion, coughing, sneezing, or wheezing
- Stuffy, itchy, or runny nose
- Difficulty breathing
- Dizziness, sweating, and faintness
- Rapid increase in heart rate
- Sudden hoarseness or inability to speak
- Immediate and extreme facial swelling and itching
Anaphylaxis is a sudden, severe, and potentially fatal allergic reaction with symptoms that affect various areas of the body. Symptoms usually appear very quickly after exposure to the allergen and can include intense itching all over the body, total body swelling, respiratory distress and can even lead to shock that is life threatening. Immediate medical attention is required. Anaphylaxis is most frequently caused by food, drug, or insect sting allergies.
- Flushing of the skin
- Tingling or itching around the body
- Swelling of the mouth and throat area
- Difficulty swallowing and breathing
- Tightness of the chest
- Confusion, agitation, or lightheadedness
- Abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Irregular heartbeat
In the most severe cases the sufferer can go into shock. Swelling of the bronchial tissues in the lungs can cause a person to choke and lose consciousness. A precipitous drop in blood pressure due to dilated (expanded) blood vessels can also result in a loss of consciousness.
In such cases of anaphylactic shock it is imperative that treatment be administered immediately. Without prompt attention anaphylactic shock can be fatal.
Symptoms of a respiratory allergy usually occur within the first few hours after exposure and are generally trigged by airborne allergens such as plant pollens, animal dander, dust mites, and mold spores.
- Coughing or wheezing
- Postnasal drip
- Itchy nose and throat
- Throat hoarseness
- Impaired sense of smell
- Runny or clogged nose with clear, thin mucus
- Watery, itchy, red, or swollen eyes
- Conjunctivitis (inflammation of membrane that lines eyelids, causing swollen eyelids and redness around the eyes)
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest tightness and pain
Symptoms of a contact allergy usually occur within 30 minutes after exposure to the allergen, although symptoms may take up to several hours to appear. Common contact allergens include poison oak and poison ivy, latex, rubber, nickel, preservatives, dyes, medications, fragrances, and cosmetics such as hair dye and perfume. Nickel, a metal very commonly used in jewelry, buttons, hairpins, metal clips, zippers and snaps, is the source of much misery for those allergic to it. Exposure to the sun can also cause reactions.
- An itchy or bumpy rash
- Fluid-filled bumps on skin
- Redness or swelling of skin
- Eczema (inflamed, dry, cracked skin covered in pimples or blisters)
Symptoms of an insect sting allergy usually occur within the first 15 to 30 minutes after the sting, although symptoms may take up to several hours to appear. Insect venoms that most commonly cause allergic reactions are from bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants.
- Pain, itching, and swelling at the site of the sting or sometimes over a larger area such as the entire hand or forearm
- Nausea or fatigue
- Hives, itching, and swelling in areas other than the sting site
- Tightness in the chest and difficulty in breathing
- Swelling of the tongue
It’s important to note that many allergies share symptoms with other diseases and conditions. These similarities can make it difficult to determine the actual cause of your symptoms and the appropriate treatment. Make sure you visit your doctor or allergist to determine if your symptoms have been caused by an allergen or if there is something else causing your condition. Do not attempt to treat any condition until you know exactly what it is. Treating the wrong problem may worsen the situation or cause more serious problems. Proper diagnosis is essential.
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Dave R. Roger, M.D.