An Author's Guide to Allergic Reactions

It can be quite a terrifying and life-changing experience, finding out that you're allergic to something. Maybe not if you just end up with a rash or can't stop sneezing, but more so if you go into some sort of shock. When I was 17, I discovered (the hard way) that I’m allergic to a particular antibiotic, and I can honestly say the experience changed the way I live my life.

In the context of storytelling, allergic reactions are actually great and uncommon ways to introduce obstacles for your characters to overcome. They can be pre-existing or a surprise. They can be mild, or they can be severe. They can affect any body part you want and can even kill.They are also something that makes your character vulnerable that they physically cannot change about themselves. Therefore, there will always be an element of risk in their story.

In this post, I’ll be talking about the different types of allergic reactions, how symptoms present themselves, and also how you can use them in your stories.

Pre-existing Allergies

These are allergies that your character knows they have. It is important to note that giving your character a known allergy can affect the plot, not in that they will have a reaction, but in that they might.They may be unwilling to go places, do activities, or eat foods for fear of a reaction. In severe cases, just the possibility of a reaction could change the direction of your plot.

Consider your character is at a crossroad; they can either take a shortcut through a field of poppies, or they can scale a precarious cliff face. The catch is: they’re deathly allergic to those poppies. What should be an easy decision is suddenly made much harder.

If you give your character a known allergy, also consider that they may carry medication. Medication can run out, go missing, be stolen and be tampered with.

Skin Reactions

When somebody touches or consumes something they’re allergic to, skin reactions are very common. If your characters are in a forest, for example, they may likely leave with a reaction of this sort due to brushing against plants.

Skin reactions are great ways to introduce non-life-threatening obstacles or inconveniences for your character. For example, give them a rash before an important event, such as a date or a job interview.

Third-person characters will see:

  • Raised, red, blotchy skin (hives).

  • Dry, red, cracked and peeling skin (eczema).

  • Other types of rashes, (if writing fantasy, you can even make something up!)

  • Symptoms may be localised to the area touched, or if the item was ingested, the symptoms may be global, across the entire body.

First-person characters will feel:

  • Severe itchiness, like thousands of ants crawling over the area. When scratched too harshly, characters may draw blood and will undoubtedly make things worse.

  • Sore and burning skin that feels hot.

  • Skin sensitive to touch. Light brushes may feel like knives gliding over the flesh.

Allergic Rhinitis

This type of allergic reaction is extremely common. You’ll know it from hay fever symptoms and pet danger allergies. These symptoms often come in conjunction with conjunctivitis and sinusitis. Mild reactions can often be mistaken as the onset of a cold. Allergic rhinitis can leave you feeling lethargic unmotivated, and generally quite crabby!

Third-person characters will see: