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Drug Allergy - Medical Malpractice
Drug allergies are a number of possible symptoms a person can have when taking a drug they are intolerant to or allergic to. There are drug reactions to many drugs but few drug reactions are actually related to an allergy to the drug. Drug allergies can be mild or severe and relate to the immune system's function against the drug, which appears as foreign.
Allergic reactions can be those that don't happen the first time you take a drug. The first time you take a drug, the body has no reaction but makes antibodies against the drug. It takes about seven days to make IgE against the drug and then you begin to get allergic symptoms. IgE causes histamine to be released and you begin to itch and have hives all over the body. In some cases, you can have a drug reaction the first time you take a medication. It is not mediated by IgE and the exact mechanism of action of this disease is not known. Another type of reaction includes serum sickness reaction that is delayed and happens to occur at least one week past taking the medication for the first time. You can get a reaction from a drug or a vaccine.
Typical drugs that cause allergic reactions include penicillin medications, sulfa medications, animal-derived insulin, IV drugs containing iodine, anticonvulsant medications, including IV contrast materials. In reality, any medication can be the cause of an allergic reaction.
A reaction to a medication does not always need to be allergic. Non-allergic hives can occur from medications and asthma symptoms can be possible when taking the drugs related to aspirin. Some medications cause completely idiosyncratic reactions that are of an unknown cause. Side effects in such situations are usually mild and self limiting in nature. If the reaction is going to be completely allergic, you can get hives, itchy spots or splotches on the skin, itchy eyes, itchy skin, rash, or swelling of the lips or face. Wheezing can occur if you are prone to asthma or bronchospasm.
The most severe reaction you can get to a drug is called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can occur minutes to hours after the taking of the drug. The result is symptoms of shortness of breath, swelling of the face or body, abdominal pain or cramps, dizziness, diarrhea, fainting, hives, nausea and vomiting and a rapid pulse. There can be heart palpitations along with the shortness of breath.
The diagnosis of allergic reactions to drugs includes a careful history and physical examination. Doctors look for hives, low blood pressure and facial swelling. They can do skin testing to see if the drug causes a local reaction when injected just beneath the skin. Skin testing does not exist for all drugs so it is not completely a good test. Sometimes you just have to try taking the medication in order to know if you are able to take the medication at all.
The treatment of drug allergies must begin with stopping the drug causing the reaction. Medications that work well to control the symptoms include bronchodilator in the form of inhalers that open up the airways. Benadryl is used to relieve itching and hives and is the most commonly used medication for medication allergies. Corticosteroids work well via an IV, intramuscular or oral route to decrease inflammation. Topical corticosteroids are used for itchy rashes related to medication allergies. The most severe reactions, such as anaphylaxis, are treated with epinephrine, which is given by subcutaneous or intravenous routes in order to treat the symptoms. Document the drug allergy on the medical record so that the drug or related drugs are not given again. It is possible to desensitize the person against the medication by giving tiny doses and increasing the dose so that the individual is no longer allergic to the drug
Complications of drug allergies include asthma that occurs after the medication is stopped, angioedema, which is a severe reaction involving swelling of the lungs, tongue or throat. Anaphylaxis is a severe complication of the disease. If you have symptoms of a drug allergy, you need to see a doctor as soon as possible.LEGAL HELPLINE: ☎ 855 804 7125
The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here