Although medications can alleviate symptoms, manage, or cure conditions and disease, they can also have side effects or even produce an allergic reaction.
At Advanced Allergy & Asthma Centers, our role is to diagnose drug allergies, and help patients manage, treat, and prevent reactions. We also work with patients and their physicians on finding alternative drugs or solutions so they can continue to get the necessary and therapeutic care they need.
Even though side effects can feel unpleasant and sometimes resemble manifestations of an allergic reaction, they are not the same. Allergic responses are dictated by the immune system, while side effects are not. In many cases, side effects are manageable, and the benefits of a therapeutic drug far outweigh the risks. However, with drug allergies, it’s a different situation.
With a drug allergy, your immune system goes into overdrive. Instead of viewing the medication as helpful, your body mistakes it for a harmful substance.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from mild to severe and manifest in the following ways:
A drug allergy is not always apparent the first time a medication gets taken. It can occur the second time after the immune system produces antibodies to defend against the drug. There are also less common drug reactions, such as serum sickness, drug-induced anemia, DRESS (drug rash with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms, or nephritis that can emerge days or even weeks later.
Diagnosing drug allergies begins with a comprehensive medical history and questions regarding one’s history of any medication reactions and exposure and experience with a particular drug. Depending on the allergy suspected, a skin test or blood test may be performed. Oral challenges are sometimes recommended in cases where a reaction is not considered severe.
As with all allergies, care depends on the severity of the reaction. Treatment may include antihistamines, bronchodilators, corticosteroids, or epinephrine.
Of course, it’s essential to avoid the triggering medication and have your physicians recommend an appropriate alternative drug. If there’s no alternative to a necessary medication, then a desensitization procedure may offer the best course in care.
All your doctors must be made aware of your drug allergy. It’s also wise to wear a medical alert bracelet indicating your allergy and to have an autoinjector (EpiPen) on hand in an emergency situation. For severe reactions, emergency medical care is crucial.