Allergic Reactions to Medications: What You Need to Know


Usually, you assume medications are designed to protect you against allergic reactions and additional medical problems. But like any substance, you can be allergic to any medications. As with food or environmental allergies, an allergic reaction to medication can range from mild to more severe. If you think that you might have drug allergies, it’s important to see an allergy specialist in Las Vegas to get the medication or other treatment you need to stay safe and get your allergies under control.

What Is An Allergic Reaction To Medication?


Allergies to the medicine or medicines that you’re taking might range from mild to life-threatening. Allergies to medication account for about 5% – 10% of all allergies. An allergy to medication is an immune system reaction. When you ingest the medicine that you’re allergic to, your body responds as if the medicine is a foreign substance. One type of immune system response results in your body producing certain antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE), which is an allergic response to a specific drug. IgE antibodies travel to cells throughout your body, which triggers the release of certain chemicals and consequently causes an allergic reaction. The allergic reaction can affect your skin, eyes, nose, lungs, throat, ears, sinuses, joints, cardiovascular system and gastrointestinal (GI) tract. An allergic response can occur within minutes to hours. 

Serious Allergic Reactions 

Allergies from medication side effects range from mild to severe. Some people might experience minor skin reactions or itching, while others may experience a life-threatening allergic response called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of an immediate reaction. If you have an anaphylactic response, you may experience the following symptoms:  

  • Facial or throat swelling
  • Wheezing
  • Hives
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Hypotension
  • Shock

These serious allergic responses usually occur within an hour or less of taking the medication that you are allergic to. These responses can happen with medicines that are injected or taken orally. In rare cases, the response won’t start until several hours after you’ve received the medication. Either way, an anaphylactic reaction can result in serious problems, including death, so you’ll want to contact an allergy specialist in Las Vegas right away if you start experiencing symptoms that may indicate an allergic reaction. 

Two such reactions are called Steveb-Johnson Syndrom and toxic epidermal necrolysis, which can cause rashes in the most mild cases, but it can cause a systemic, life threatening reaction that affects the kidneys, lungs, heart, and liver. You can also develop blisters. If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention right away, as the allergic reaction can erode the surfaces of parts of your body, including the lips, eyes, mouth, and genital region. 

General Allergy Symptoms 

Some medication allergies may not be as severe, but they still cause problems. Mild medication side effects may include the following: 

  • Itchy skin
  • Fever
  • Swelling
  • Nasal congestion
  • Skin rash
  • Itchy and watery eyes
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath

As with more serious allergic responses, mild reactions can take place within minutes, hours, or days after you ingest the medicine that you’re allergic to. While you may get treatment to stop the reaction, it can take some time for the allergic response to dissipate or even respond. Some responses that take place after you stop a medication may include kidney inflammation, rashes, swollen lymph nodes, anemia, and serum sickness, which is a vague list of ailments that may include swelling, rashes, nausea, joint pain, and fever. 

Non-specific Reactions to Medication 

Along with the allergic responses above, you may have some adverse reactions to common medications that are not a specific immune response. For instance, the dyes used in X-rays or CT scans may cause uncomfortable but nonallergic responses like itching, a drop in blood pressure, or flushing of the skin. Some high blood pressure medications can cause adverse reactions, including tongue swelling, facial swelling, or a cough. 

Another potential nonallergic reaction may happen with exposure to ibuprofen, aspirin, or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). If you are sensitive to aspirin or other NSAIDs, you may end up with symptoms including wheezing, a congested nose, and difficulty breathing. 

What Causes Allergic Reactions? 


Allergic reactions to medications can occur for multiple reasons. Some of the most common reasons for developing an allergic reaction are your body chemistry, genetics, exposure to certain drugs, or an underlying medical condition or disease. Also, if there are drug allergies that run in your family, you are more likely to have an allergy to medication. Interestingly, a family member’s allergy to a certain drug does not necessarily mean you will be allergic to that same drug. 

Non-allergic Medication Reactions 

Sometimes, you might have a reaction to medication that is a non-allergic reaction. These reactions are more common than drug allergies. They might cause symptoms that are uncomfortable and unpleasant, such as stomach cramps or gastrointestinal (GI) problems with certain medications. People who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment might suffer from other reactions, including hair loss and vomiting, which wouldn’t otherwise affect many people. 

Take Precautions 

Since drug allergies can be severe, or at least annoying, it’s a good idea to discuss the medications that you’re taking with a physician. Keep track of the medications that you’re using and if you have any adverse or unusual reactions while taking the medicine. Note any unusual responses that take place instantly or over several weeks, as rare but serious reactions can take longer to develop. An allergy specialist can help you identify allergies to medications and take the necessary precautions, such as avoiding future exposure and wearing a medical bracelet to alert others of your allergy. 


How are Medicine Allergies Diagnosed? 


Allergies to medications may be diagnosed in several ways.  

Typically, keeping track of the medications that you’ve taken recently can help you and your doctor figure out if you’re having an allergic reaction. Take note of the medications you are taking and when you started them. If you have any adverse symptoms after starting the medicine, note if those symptoms started at night, during the day, or in the morning when you wake up. How long do they last? Did they start after you took a particular medication? Also, note if the symptoms began after you started taking an herbal medicine. 

How are Allergies Treated? 


Allergies may be treated in several ways. For instance, an allergist may use a graded challenge, which is where you’re given a progressively higher amount of the medicine that you think you’re allergic to. An allergist may also recommend desensitization treatment, where you’re given a small dose of medication to start with, but then you are given more and more over time. Ultimately, the goal is to make your body have no allergic response to the medication. Testing may be available for penicillin allergies.

Get your allergies under control today! You can make an appointment at Tottori Allergy and Asthma by calling (702) 240-4233 or by scheduling an appointment online.