Medication side effects verses drug allergy
Many people confuse medication side effects with a true drug allergy. Side effects are unwanted effects that the medication may have on the body. Upset stomach, headache, nausea, ringing of the ears, and dry mouth are some examples of side effects. Of course no one wants to experience these things, but you shouldn’t mistake this for a drug allergy. A true allergy happens when your body’s immune system sees a drug molecule as a foreign body and mounts an all-out attack against it. Medication allergies can be serious and even life-threatening events. It is important to let your doctor and pharmacist know if you have experienced a true drug allergy in the past or if you have a family history of a certain drug allergy. Even food allergies are important to mention. Some drugs are manufactured using food products like egg, lactose, and soy lecithin.
A drug or food allergy may invoke a life-threatening condition known as anaphylaxis. Although it is rare, anaphylaxis should be treated as a medical emergency. Early warning signs of anaphylaxis include flushing , itchy skin, hives, wheezing, facial or airway swelling, and a severe drop in blood pressure. Not all allergies result in anaphylaxis or are immediately apparent. Rashes, anemias, and other signs may show up days to weeks after starting a medication. Your doctor can help judge whether these reactions are allergic or not.
Here’s how an allergy works: the first time you are exposed to a drug, you will not have a reaction, but your body produces immune attack proteins. The second time you take it these proteins go into attack mode and you experience some sort of reaction. Subsequent exposures to the drug will commonly produce allergic reactions that are more and more severe. If you experience an allergic reaction, immediately stop taking the offending medication and call your doctor. If you experience difficulty breathing or other severe symptoms dial 911 immediately.
Most Common Drugs People are Allergic to:
• Penicillin (and sometimes structurally-related antibiotics called cephalosporins)
• Sulfa drugs (i.e. Bactrim, HCTZ, Sulfasalazine, Sumatriptan, etc.)
• Radiocontrast dyes used for diagnostic testing
Jake Blair, PharmD student at Harding University