What Is a Sulfa Allergy?
Tell your doctor right away if you think you’re having a reaction to a sulfa drug. They’ll decide whether to take you off the drug and how to treat your symptoms.
Sulfa Allergy Symptoms
If you’re allergic to sulfa drugs or any other medication, you may have one or more of these symptoms:
The reaction can also cause these serious skin reactions:
Drug eruption.Red or swollen, rounded patches form in 30 minutes to 8 hours.
Drugs to Avoid With Sulfa Allergies
Sulfa antibiotics have been widely used for more than 70 years. The first antibiotic was a sulfa drug introduced in 1936. Today, these drugs include burn creams, vaginal suppositories, and eye drops as well as medications for many types of infections. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to one sulfa antibiotic, you’re probably allergic to all of them.
Here are a few examples of common sulfa drugs that could cause problems:
Dapsone (Aczone), which treats leprosy, dermatitis and certain kinds of pneumonia
Some sulfa drugs may be OK
Even if you’re allergic to antibiotics that have sulfa, you might be able to take some other types of sulfa drugs without a reaction. Ones that may be safe to take include:
But be sure to tell your doctor if you have a sulfa allergy before taking any of these.
Sulfa Allergy Treatments
You and your doctor will want to treat your allergy symptoms right away. Medications for a sulfa allergy in
Epinephrine (for anaphylaxis)
If you’re allergic to a medication that you need to take, your doctor could start it slowly. This is called drug desensitization. You’ll take a very small dose at first and then larger doses over several hours or days. Your doctor will watch you closely for any negative reactions.
Sulfa Allergy Complications
Though rare, a sulfa allergy can cause serious problems, such as:
Anaphylaxis. This life-threatening reaction to a drug allergy causes trouble breathing, a drop in blood pressure, and other symptoms.
Stevens-Johnson syndrome. This is a disorder of the skin and mucous membranes that starts with flu-like symptoms followed by a painful rash.
Sulfa Allergy Prevention
If you have a drug allergy, it’s best to avoid medications that will cause a bad reaction or side effect. Here are some other tips:
Notify your health care providers. Tell them about any drug allergies so they can make a note in your medical records.
Wear a medical bracelet. In an emergency, a bracelet will alert health care providers about any drug allergies.
Sulfa vs. Sulfite Allergy
A sulfa allergy sounds like a sulfite allergy, but they’re very different. Sulfa drugs treat health conditions. Sulfites are preservatives used in many foods, drinks (especially wine), and medications.
Sulfa drugs and sulfites are not related. Neither are their allergies. There’s no need to give up dried fruit, wine, or other items that have sulfites if you’re sensitive to sulfa drugs.