Explains what a drug allergy is. Offers a list of symptoms. Covers medicines that can cause an allergic reaction. Discusses how allergies are diagnosed and treated. Provides home treatment options. Covers when to call a doctor.
What is a drug allergy?
A drug allergy happens
when you have a harmful reaction to a medicine you use. Your body's
immune system fights back by setting off an
allergic reaction. Most drug allergies are mild, and
the symptoms go away within a few days after you stop using the medicine. But
some drug allergies can be very serious.
Some drug allergies go
away with time. But after you have an allergic reaction to a drug, you will
probably always be allergic to that drug. You can also be allergic to other
drugs that are like it.
A drug allergy is one type of harmful, or
adverse, drug reaction. There are other kinds of adverse drug reactions. Symptoms and treatments of different kinds of adverse
reactions vary. So your doctor will want to find out if you have a true drug
allergy or if you have another type of bad reaction that isn't as
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of a drug
allergy can range from mild to very serious. Most of the time they appear within 1 to 72 hours. They include:
Anaphylaxis, which is the most
dangerous reaction. It can be deadly, and you will need emergency treatment.
Symptoms, such as hives and trouble breathing, usually appear within 1 hour
after you take the medicine. Without emergency care, you could die.
What medicines commonly cause an allergic reaction?
Any medicine can cause an allergic reaction. A few of the most common
If you are allergic to one medicine, you may be allergic
to others like it. For example, if you are allergic to penicillin, there is a chance that you may also
be allergic to similar medicines, such as amoxicillin.
How is a drug allergy diagnosed?
Your doctor will
diagnose a drug allergy by asking you questions about the medicines you take
and about any medicines you have taken in the recent past. Your doctor will
also ask about your past health and your symptoms. He or she will do a physical
If this doesn't tell your doctor whether you have a drug
allergy, then he or she may do skin tests. Or your doctor may have you take
small doses of a medicine to see if you have a reaction.
How is it treated?
If you have a reaction
Call 911 right away if you have trouble
breathing or if you start to get hives.
If you have a severe reaction, your first treatment may occur in an emergency room. You may get an epinephrine shot to help you breathe. You may also get medicines, such as
If you have a mild
over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines may help your
symptoms. You may need prescription medicine if these don't help or if you
have problems with side effects, such as drowsiness. Not all OTC antihistamines cause drowsiness.
The best thing you can do for
a drug allergy is to stop taking the medicine that causes it. Talk to your doctor to see if you can take another type of
If you can't change your medicine, your doctor may try a
method called desensitization. This means that you will start to take small
amounts of the medicine that caused your reaction. Under your doctor's supervision, you will then slowly
increase how much you take. This lets your immune system "get used to" the
medicine. After this, you may no longer have an allergic reaction.
If you have severe drug allergies, your doctor may give you an epinephrine auto-injector as part of an Anaphylaxis Action Plan. Your doctor will teach you how to use it. If you have a serious allergic reaction, you
may need to give yourself the shot and get emergency medical treatment.
Be sure to wear a
medical alert bracelet or other jewelry that lists your drug allergies. If you
are in an emergency, this can save your life.
How can you take care of yourself at home?
To take care of yourself at home:
Know which medicines you're allergic to, and avoid taking these medicines.
Keep a list of all medicines you are taking.
Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about any new medicines you are prescribed. Make sure they are not similar to those that can cause a reaction.
Don't use someone else's medicines or share yours.
If you do have a mild reaction, take steps to relieve symptoms such as itching. Take cool showers, or apply cool compresses. Wear light clothing that doesn't bother your skin. Stay away from strong soaps and detergents, which can make itching worse.
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