Here’s How Different Allergic Reactions Cause Different Symptoms

There are so many types of allergic reactions. Some of us get rashes or hives after eating certain foods, some of us develop allergic asthma due to triggers like mold or dust, and some of us have a higher risk of dangerous complications like anaphylactic shock.

You might have some idea of what an allergic reaction can look and feel like (Itchy spots! Watery eyes! Swelling!), but your body can respond in all kinds of unexpected ways when it comes in contact with something it perceives as a threat.

If you deal with allergies, then keep on reading to dig deeper into the different types of allergic reactions you may experience. Understanding your personal triggers can clue you in on how to best treat them, so you can hopefully feel better faster when symptoms strike.

What is an allergic reaction?

Typically, your immune system tries to keep you healthy by attacking things like potentially harmful viruses and bacteria. Sometimes, however, your immune cells see other substances as a threat to your body, even if they don’t generally cause harm for most people. In most cases, your body attacks the perceived “invaders” and causes an allergic reaction by producing antibodies called immunoglobulin (IgE). It’s these antibodies that release chemicals that trigger symptoms, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).

People can be allergic to so many different things, including various types of food, insect venom, latex, or certain medicines, as well as airborne substances like pollen, mold, or animal dander, among other allergens.

Allergic reactions are common and often happen within minutes to hours after a person has been exposed to the offending allergen, Lara Gross, MD, an allergist and immunologist with Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, tells SELF.

People who have a family history of allergic conditions like hives, hay fever, eczema, or asthma are more likely to have allergies, according to the Mayo Clinic. But anyone can develop allergies regardless of these factors.

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What are some common allergic reaction symptoms?

Sometimes, allergic reactions cause mild symptoms like itching or congestion. But in other cases, they can make a person extremely uncomfortable—think stomach cramping, chest pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or dizziness. Occasionally, a severe allergic reaction can be life-threatening if you don’t get quick treatment, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). What’s more, if a reaction repeatedly happens, like in the case of having pollen allergies all spring, it can lead to other complications such as sinusitis, Dr. Gross says.

According to the NIH, mild allergic reaction symptoms can include:

Moderate-to-severe allergic reaction symptoms can be less subtle. You may experience the following side effects, depending on the type of allergen you’re dealing with:

  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness or discomfort
  • Dizziness
  • Becoming flushed
  • Feeling anxious
  • Having trouble breathing
  • Having difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen eyes, face, or tongue
  • Heart palpitations

The above symptoms can also be a sign of the most severe allergic reaction, which is anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction. Additional signs of anaphylaxis include severe shortness of breath, a rapid or weak pulse, a drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. Generally, severe symptoms happen within minutes of inhaling, consuming, or injecting (as you might with certain medications) an allergen. But some allergic reactions can take a few hours to present symptoms, especially when it comes to food allergies, the NIH notes. Severe allergic reactions call for an immediate shot of epinephrine and emergency medical attention. 

Keep in mind that some allergens tend to be more likely to cause certain symptoms. For example, food allergies are more commonly associated with mouth tingling, facial swelling, hives, or possibly anaphylaxis. Allergies to pollen or dander, on the other hand, are more likely to trigger sneezing, a runny nose, or watery eyes, says the Mayo Clinic.