Fortunately, there is a simple precaution you can take to avoid such a situation—invest in a medical alert device.
These devices can be as sophisticated as the ones we reviewed in our Top 10 Best Medical Alert Systems & Companies article, or as low-tech as a simple medical ID bracelet. Check out the reviews for our picks of the best medical alert bracelets in 2023.
If you have allergies and have been thinking about getting a medical ID bracelet or emergency medical alert device, the following facts can help you decide.
Here are 10 Facts You Should Know About Allergies and Your Safety.
1. What is anaphylaxis?
Allergies are what happens when your body’s immune system mistakes a harmless substance for a dangerous one and overreacts to it. Minor allergy symptoms include sneezing, itchy eyes, and skin rashes, but if you are severely allergic to a substance, contact with it can trigger a reaction called anaphylaxis.
When this happens, your blood pressure drops and your airways constrict so that you can’t breathe properly. An attack of anaphylaxis can cause your body to go into shock, lose consciousness, and—if not treated quickly and properly—can be life-threatening.
One study reports that up to 5% of the population in the United States has suffered anaphylaxis. Improvements in treatment do mean that fatalities are becoming rarer, but they still number in the hundreds worldwide every year.
The reason for these deaths is often either that emergency medical personnel were unaware that the patient had allergies and thus didn’t treat them, or the patient was allergic to one or more of the medications used to treat them, so their allergy to that medication proved fatal.
2. Types of allergies—causes and risks
The range of substances that people can be dangerously allergic to is enormous. A few common causes of anaphylaxis include:
Food allergies from milk, soy, eggs, and shellfish.
Nuts, including peanuts and tree nuts. Also, the foods and beverages that contain them.
Medications, such as antibiotics, NSAIDs, and opioids.
Insect stings from bees, wasps, ants, hornets, spiders, and scorpions.
Latex, a product made from rubber trees, and commonly used in clothing and (ironically enough) the protective gloves often worn by medical personnel.
If you suffer from food allergies and are cautious about the ingredients contained in your meals, there are food delivery services offering lactose-, nut-, and egg-free options. These services can cater to your specific dietary requirements, providing you peace of mind and one less thing to worry about.
The biggest factor that determines your risk of anaphylaxis is having had a previous anaphylactic attack. Your risk of a dangerous reaction increases with each attack. You are at higher risk of anaphylaxis if you have asthma, a family history of anaphylaxis, and/or if you have certain other conditions such as heart disease.
3. Statistics—how many are at risk
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, as many as one in 50 Americans are at risk of having a severe allergic reaction. About 25 million have asthma, resulting in 1.8 million visits to emergency departments and 180,000 hospitalizations every year.
Another 32 million have serious food allergies that lead to 30,000 emergency room visits, 2,000 hospitalizations, and 150 deaths per year. Millions of others have life-threatening allergies to insect stings, medications, and latex.
Fortunately, many of these people have had their allergies diagnosed and can protect themselves by avoiding allergy-inducing substances and carrying an EpiPen, which is used to administer a dose of epinephrine, the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis.
However, even if you take these precautions, what happens if you have an anaphylactic attack so serious that you are unable to tell the EMTs to look for your EpiPen and administer it? This is where the benefit of medical alerts for allergies comes in.
4. The most important factors in treating anaphylaxis
As with any potentially life-threatening condition, the most important factors in overcoming anaphylaxis are time and proper treatment. The first is obvious—the faster emergency services can reach you and evaluate your condition, the better your chances of survival. This is one reason that many people with allergies choose medical alert devices that allow them to call for help by pushing a Help button.
However, a simple medical ID bracelet can be just as effective. It tells the EMTs you might be having an anaphylactic reaction that requires immediate treatment. The first-line treatment for anaphylaxis is usually a shot of epinephrine, administered from an EpiPen or similar device.
5. Why medical alert bracelets can save your life in an emergency
Medical alert bracelets speak for you when you cannot. If an attack leaves you unconscious or so groggy that you can’t communicate with the EMTs who are trying to help you, how can you tell them that you are allergic to certain drugs and medications?
Medical IDs avoid that risk because 95% of emergency medical personnel report that the first thing they do when dealing with a patient is to check their wrist to measure their pulse. If they find an allergy bracelet on your wrist, they will have information that can literally save your life. They also have access to your emergency contact information.
6. ID bracelets work well in any emergency, not just anaphylaxis
One important thing to remember if you are considering a medical alert bracelet is that they work equally well to protect you in situations other than anaphylactic attacks. If you have been involved in an auto accident and are unconscious, an ID bracelet can alert first responders that you are allergic to certain drugs.
One danger that wearing a medical ID bracelet can protect you from, ironically enough, are the gloves worn by medical professionals. They wear them automatically, and this protects most of the people they treat. However, these gloves contain latex, so if you have a dangerous allergy to latex it could make your condition worse. Wearing a simple allergy bracelet avoids this possibility.
7. Medical ID bracelets provide support for children with allergies
If you are a parent whose children have asthma or allergies, medical alert bracelets can protect them, too. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 40% of children in the US live with allergies. You may not always be present to provide their medical information if they have an attack or some other accident that requires medical care.
8. Medical alert bracelets are not just for allergies
If you have any illness or medical condition that could cause a medical emergency and leave you unable to speak, most medical professionals say that it’s a good idea to wear some kind of medical ID. These conditions include:
9. Differences between medical ID bracelets and medical alert systems
Both solutions can protect you if you suffer from allergies. But to understand the difference, medical alert ID bracelets provide critical health information, while electronic alert systems and medical alert safety buttons send help.
Medical IDs are valuable in any emergency, but they only provide your health information to carers once emergency help has arrived. Medical alert systems such as Medical Guardian or Mobile Help, on the other hand, allow you to contact a 24-hour emergency call center that can immediately send emergency services to your location.
They can even make sure that the EMTs have all your health information before they arrive, so they are prepared. Operators at the call centers can also contact a family member or emergency contact for you.
10. Peace of mind may be one of the most important benefits
In the previous nine points, we’ve made a case for how beneficial a medical ID bracelet can be if you have allergies and suffer an attack. But there is another benefit—peace of mind.
Knowing that you don’t have to worry about communicating your health information to caregivers in an emergency means that it’s one less thing you have to worry about. This knowledge gives many people greater confidence to live with more freedom.
All things considered, it’s hard to make a case for not wearing a medical ID if you have a serious allergy. They’re light, unobtrusive, and they can literally save your life. Best of all, they come in many different styles and with many different features, so you can pick the one that best fits your lifestyle.
The least expensive options are simple medical alert bracelets. Some are available in fashionable styles that look more like jewelry than medical alert IDs. Electronic medical alert systems are more expensive, but they offer the important feature of being able to call for help by simply pushing a button.