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Drug Allergy – An Overview

A drug allergy is an abnormal reaction of your immune system to a medication. Any kind of medication such as over-the-counter medicines, herbal medicines or anything else can cause a drug allergy. A drug allergy is not the same as side effects or an overdose. It is however very serious and can sometimes even result in anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition that adversely affects the functioning of the body.

Drug Allergy Symptoms

If you are allergic to a certain drug, you may start feeling the effects within an hour of its intake. Most common signs and symptoms of a drug allergy include:

  • Hives
  • Skin rash
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Wheezing
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Runny nose

Anaphylaxis: As mentioned earlier, anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition that can occur if you have an allergic reaction to a drug. Its signs and symptoms include:

  • Nausea or abdominal cramps
  • Tightening of the airways and throat, causing trouble breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizure
  • Weak, rapid pulse

Drug Allergy Risk factors

You may be at risk of a drug allergy if you:

  • Have a history of other allergies, such as food allergy or hay fever
  • Have an allergic reaction to another drug
  • Have a family history of drug allergy
  • Have certain illnesses commonly associated with allergic drug reactions, such as infection with HIV or the Epstein-Barr virus
  • Have an increased exposure to a drug, because of high doses, repetitive use or prolonged use

Drug Allergy Diagnosis

In order to confirm that you may have a drug allergy, your doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask you a number of questions including details about the onset of symptoms, the medication you take frequently, etc. Based on this, he will recommend the following tests and administer the appropriate treatment. He will also recommend:

  • Skin tests
  • Blood tests

Drug Allergy Treatment

The goals of treatment for a drug allergy are to firstly find a way to control the present symptoms and secondly manage the allergic reaction if there’s a need to take medication that may cause an allergic reaction. You doctor may prescribe the following medication/treatment accordingly:

  • Withdrawal of the drug
  • Antihistamines
  • Corticosteroids
  • Treatment for anaphylaxis which is a medical emergency

UPDATED ON 28/03/2024

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