Allergies to Medications

Drug allergies arise from a complicated response by the immune system to a specific medication. A person usually goes through three stages when developing an allergy to a medication. First, he or she must be exposed to the drug by taking one or more doses. Next, the person's immune system identifies the drug as harmful and begins producing antibodies to fight it. Finally, the person takes another dose of the drug, and the allergy symptoms appear. The symptoms may appear immediately, within 1 to 2 hours, or within a few days to a week after taking the drug. Common symptoms of drug allergy include skin rash or hives, difficulty breathing, and itching. Severe drug allergies may cause seizures, loss of consciousness, or shock (see box below). If you have had a previous severe allergic reaction, you will need to carry an injecting device that contains epinephrine with you at all times, so you can inject yourself immediately if you have another allergic reaction. An injection of epinephrine can save your life.

Anaphylactic Shock naphylactic shock is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction. The reaction usually occurs after an insect sting or bite or after injection of a specific drug such as penicillin. Occasionally the reaction occurs after eating a particular food or taking a specific medication. Anaphylactic shock is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical

During an anaphylactic reaction, the body releases massive amounts of histamine and other powerful chemicals in response to the presence of the allergen. The blood vessels widen, causing a sudden, severe decrease in blood pressure. Other symptoms can include hives (itchy, raised, red patches on the skin); swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat; abdominal pain; diarrhea; and difficulty breathing due to bronchospasm (narrowing of the airways in the lungs).

If you or someone you know has an anaphylactic reaction, call 911 or your local emergency number. While waiting for emergency help to arrive, have the person lie down, with face up, head low, and legs raised about a foot high to improve blood flow to the upper body. An injection of epinephrine is needed as soon as possible to counteract the allergic reaction. If you or the person has had a severe allergic reaction before and carries an injecting device that contains epinephrine, use it as soon as symptoms appear.

Medications that typically produce an allergic reaction include antibiotics (such as penicillin), sulfa drugs, insulin that contains pig or ox protein, vaccines, and aspirin. If you are allergic to any medications, be sure to tell your doctor and other healthcare providers who are treating you, such as a nurse or a dentist. Also, in case of emergency, you should always wear a medical identification bracelet or necklace and carry a wallet card that informs people of your allergy. This will help ensure appropriate medical treatment.

Immune System treatment.




Warning Signs of Allergy to Medication

lways report any unpleasant or unexpected side effects of medication to your doctor.

The following symptoms may indicate an allergy to medication:

• hives (itchy, raised, red patches on the skin)

If you experience any of these symptoms after taking medication, contact your doctor. If you experience more serious symptoms—such as nausea and vomiting, difficulty breathing, confusion, loss of consciousness, swollen tongue or throat, or slurred speech—seek emergency medical help immediately. A severe allergic reaction is a medical emergency that can lead to respiratory failure and shock (see "Anaphylactic Shock," previous page).

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