Are You at Risk for a Drug Allergy?

When you end up grappling with unexpected side effects from your medication, such as a rash, nausea, or stomach distress, you might think you're allergic to the drug. However, most of the time, the reaction is caused by a drug sensitivity and not a true allergy.

With a true drug allergy, the first time you take the medication, you might not experience any side effects, but your body could develop antibodies to the drug. The next time the drug is introduced into your system, your body will recognize the intruder and respond by producing histamines and other chemicals that can lead to an array of symptoms, ranging from hives, fever, shortness of breath, and even anaphylaxis.

Drug Allergy Timing

In some cases, a drug allergy reaction can happen right after you take the medicine, while other times, you might take the drug for a few weeks without any problems and then suddenly, the symptoms appear. Occasionally, you may experience the problem even after you've stopped taking the medication for a week or two.

Predicting a Drug Allergy

It's difficult to predict in advance if you're at risk for experiencing a medication allergy response, but there are certain characteristics that can increase the likelihood. For instance, if you have a personal or family history of drug reactions, you could be more susceptible, as can very young children and elderly adults. People who take multiple medications for extended periods of time can also be more vulnerable. In addition, if you have an illness that weakens your immune system, you can be at an increased risk for experiencing a drug allergy, so exercise caution when trying new medications.

While almost any medication can cause a drug allergy, some of the common culprits include penicillin and other antibodies in the same family. Sulfa drugs can also cause allergic reactions, as can certain vaccines.

If you think you may be experiencing a drug allergy, always call your doctor immediately. While it's not always easy to diagnose a drug allergy, she will do a thorough examination and may also do some skin testing. Additionally, you'll need to stop taking the offending medication if the doctor finds that you're at any risk for serious complications. Most drug allergy symptoms will go away once the medication is out of your system, but sometimes you may need to take allergy or asthma medicine in the meantime to relieve your discomfort.

How to Protect Yourself

If your doctor believes that you have a drug allergy, avoid the medication. However, if the medicine is crucial to your health, your doctor may be able to prevent or control your immune system response with antihistamines and corticosteroids so you can tolerate the drug without any danger. Your doctor may also recommend building up your tolerance to the medication by injecting you with miniscule amounts of it and increasing the dose over time as you become desensitized.

If you've had a serious drug allergy in the past, you should also consider wearing a medical-alert bracelet.



"Drug Allergies." National Center for Biotechnology Information. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health, 29 June 2010. Web. 15 June 2011.

"Drug Allergy." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 12 Nov. 2009. Web. 15 June 2011.