Drug Allergy Overview
Adverse reactions to medications are common, yet everyone responds differently. One person may develop a rash or other reactions when taking a certain medication, while another person on the same drug may have no adverse reaction at all.
Only about 5% to 10% of these reactions are due to an allergy to the medication.
An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system overreacts to a harmless substance, in this case a medication, which triggers an allergic reaction. Sensitivities to drugs may produce similar symptoms, but do not involve the immune system.
Certain medications are more likely to produce allergic reactions than others. The most common are:
• Antibiotics, such as penicillin
• Aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen
• Monoclonal antibody therapy
The chances of developing an allergy are higher when you take the medication frequently or when it is rubbed on the skin or given by injection, rather than taken by mouth.
Most of us have had trouble with one drug or another. Some drugs can cause an upset stomach or drowsiness. Some drugs can threaten our lives. Drugs put more than 2 million people into the hospital every year. Drugs cause more than 100,000 deaths every year. The number of serious drug reactions goes up every year.
Drug allergy symptoms
Allergic drug reactions may cause:
- Skin rash or hives
- Itchy skin
- Wheezing or other breathing problems
- Swelling of body parts
- Anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction
A "pseudoallergic" or "anaphylactoid" drug reaction looks like an allergic drug reaction, but it is not allergic. This type of reaction can happen when you take the drug for the first time. This can occur with aspirin or X-ray dye. This can also happen with other drugs.
Drug allergy treatment
- For a mild reaction, you may only have to stop the drug.
What causes a drug allergy?
- For a more serious allergic drug reaction that is not life-threatening, your Allergist may give you:
An antihistamine (to counteract the histamine released into your body during the reaction)
A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugor a corticosteroid (to reduce inflammation)
Any person can get an allergic drug reaction to any drug. Allergic drug reactions are less common than other types of drug reactions.
For a drug allergy to happen, you must have taken the drug before. You are more likely to get an allergy to a drug that gave you a drug allergy before. You can loose a drug allergy. You might have a reaction that looks like a drug allergy, but is not a true drug allergy.
If you have a family member who had a drug allergy, then you are more likely to have an allergy to any drug. You are not more likely to develop a drug reaction that that drug.
If you never had the drug before, then you cannot develop a drug allergy to that drug. You might expose yourself to that drug without knowing it. You might eat a food that contains an antibiotic. Then you could get a drug allergy to that antibiotic, if you take the antibiotic for an infection.
You are more likely to have a medication allergy if you get the drug through your veins. When you take a drug through your veins, the drug goes immediately into your blood system. The higher the amount of the drug in your blood system, the more likely you will have an allergic drug reaction to it. Less often, you can get a drug allergy from swallowing the drug. The more often you take a drug, the more likely you will have a drug allergy to it
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