Many medications can cause side effects, and certain ones can trigger allergies. In an allergic reaction, your immune system mistakenly creates a response against the drug. It makes chemicals -- like histamine, and lots of it -- to get the medicine out of your body.
What Are the Symptoms?
A more severe reaction may include:
- Trouble breathing
- Blueness of the skin
- Rapid pulse
- Gut problems like diarrhea
If you think you're having anaphylaxis symptoms, give yourself a shot of epinephrine immediately and call 911.
What Are Some Common Drug Allergies?
Other possible culprits include:
- Sulfa drugs
- Iodine, which is found in many X-ray contrast dyes
How Are Drug Allergies Diagnosed?
Your doctor will start by reviewing your medical history and symptoms. If he thinks you’re allergic to an antibiotic like penicillin, he may do a skin test to confirm it. But skin testing doesn’t work for all drugs, and in some cases it could be dangerous.
If you’ve had a life-threatening reaction to a medication, your doctor will just rule out that drug as a treatment option.
What's the Treatment?
In a few cases, desensitization is used. Your doctor would give you tiny amounts of the drug by mouth, by IV, or with a shot in increasing amounts until your immune system learns to tolerate the medicine.
If you're severely allergic to certain antibiotics, your doctor can usually find an unrelated antibiotic that is safe for you.
How Can I Be Prepared?
If you have a drug allergy, always let your doctor know before you get any type of treatment, including dental care. It’s also a good idea to wear a MedicAlert bracelet or pendant, or to carry a card that identifies your drug allergy. These items could save your life in an emergency.