In fact, 1 in 3 of us will at some stage develop an allergy.
So the chances are you, your team mate or someone else you know has had an allergic reaction — possibly in its most severe life-threatening form known as anaphylaxis.
These ‘anaphylactic reactions’ mostly result from allergies to particular foods, insect bites or stings, and medicines. They are a medical emergency so it’s vital to be well equipped in the event of an attack, and that means while out playing sports too.
You and your team mates use tactics to win a match — and you can do the same when it comes to beating anaphylaxis on the field.
Guard against an attack during a game
If you ever think a small snack at half time can do no harm, think again.
Anaphylactic reactions are often triggered by allergies to foods you find everywhere, particularly milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (such as Almond, Brazil or Cashew nuts), sesame, seafood, wheat and soy. And the tiniest amount of food may be all it takes to bring on a reaction. Even the smell from cooking certain foods like fish can set anaphylaxis off in some people.
If you or your child has a severe allergy it’s important to notify your team, trainers or coaches, and anyone who might give you foods, medicines or other things you’re allergic to. And if you have a food allergy always check food labels for what they contain, and consider only eating food prepared at home, as an additional precaution.
Bees, wasps and ants can be hard to avoid out on the field. But there are tricks you and the team can keep up your sleeve to prevent anaphylaxis from a bite or sting.
Insects are attracted to darker colours and scents, so choose light-coloured clothing and avoid wearing perfumes or fragrances. If this isn’t practical, try covering your body as much as you can during a game and use an insect repellent. Asking the team not to upset bees or wasps that bother them during a game may also help!
Recognise a reaction out on the field
Anaphylactic reactions are serious so the sooner you identify them the better.
Severe symptoms can occur within 20 minutes to 2 hours of being exposed to the trigger. They often involve more than one part of the body such as the skin, airways, stomach, heart or blood vessels, and so a reaction may involve:
- Difficult or noisy breathing
- Swelling of the tongue
- Swelling or tightness in the throat
- Difficulty talking or a hoarse voice
- Vomiting or stomach pain
- Wheezing or persistent cough
- Dizziness or collapse from a drop in blood pressure
- Pale skin and floppiness (in young children).
Also be aware of symptoms like swelling of the face, lips or eyes, tingling around the mouth, or hives or welts on the skin — which sometimes occur before the more severe life-threatening symptoms set in.
Treat urgently on the turf
Anyone with anaphylaxis requires immediate first aid treatment with an adrenaline injection. Adrenaline works quickly to reverse anaphylaxis and can prevent you, your child or team mate from going into hospital or even dying.
You or your team mates don’t need to wait for an ambulance to get this life-saving treatment. People at risk of anaphylaxis can carry with them one of two brands of adrenaline autoinjectors (EpiPen or Anapen) to use in the event of an emergency.
Tell your team mates, trainers or coaches that you keep an adrenaline autoinjector, and that someone else may need to give it if you, or your child, are unable to during an anaphylactic reaction.
Each autoinjector device allows anyone to inject a preloaded dose of adrenaline into the thigh muscle, which can be done through a single layer of clothing if necessary. You don’t need to be medically trained to do this. You or someone else in the team can practice using an autoinjector training device (ask your doctor about this the next time you see them) and First Aid organisations can provide education and training.
You should be aware however of some important differences in how the two brands of adrenaline autoinjector are given. It’s also important to know that if you’re unsure whether you or someone else is having a full blown anaphylactic reaction, it’s better to use an adrenaline autoinjector than not — it’s actually more harmful to undertreat anaphylaxis than it is to overtreat a mild allergic reaction.
For demonstrations on the different methods for giving EpiPen and Anapen visit the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) website.
Safeguarding yourself after the event
After an anaphylactic event you, your child or team mate should be taken to hospital even if you seem ok, as further medical assistance or adrenaline may be needed.
Everyone at risk of anaphylaxis should have a personal action plan completed by their doctor and carry it with their adrenaline autoinjector at all times. This ensures you and others know what to do in the event of an emergency. Anaphylaxis action plans are available from the ASCIA website.
If you use an adrenaline autoinjector:
- Dispose of it safely after use — needles are exposed and might cause injury (you can return used autoinjectors to a health professional).
- Regularly check the expiry date — adrenaline has a short shelf life and once expired may no longer work effectively.
- Ensure you store it correctly — adrenaline is sensitive to heat and light, and temperature extremes may cause autoinjector devices to fail.
If you don’t wear one already, a medical alert wristband is another great way for others to know you have an allergy so they can assist in an emergency, whether you’re on or off the field.
For more information about medicines visit www.nps.org.au or call Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424).