Medicament Allergies

Allergies due to using medications, also known as medicament allergies, are usually few and far between. However, as in the case of food allergies, when they do occur, medicament can occasionally be rather critical, sometimes even deadly.

Among all medications, penicillin is said to be the most infamous allergen. Precisely speaking, in the U.S., penicillin is accountable for roughly 75 per cent casualties due to anaphylaxis. However, it is indeed an irony that penicillin is also one of most important lifesaving drugs.

At least, it has remained so during the last six decades. In addition, there are many other drugs, particularly the other antibiotics, which are sometimes responsible for allergic reactions.

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Adverse reactions

Similar to many foods, even medications can result in diverse types of adverse reactions - for instance, intolerances, allergies, toxic reactions and others. When we talk about an adverse or unfavourable reaction caused by a medication, we mean any and all troublesome reactions or non-therapeutic impacts caused by a particular medication.

Technically speaking, the board type of adverse reactions also encompasses consequences of a drug overdose. Adverse reactions also include the side effects of using different medications.

However, compared to drug overdose, the side effects are not widespread or predictable. Nevertheless, they do have a propensity to affect a considerable number of people who take any specific medication.

For instance, use of several forms of antihistamines result in unfavourable side effects, mostly drowsiness. On the other hand, using theophylline, which is frequently employed to cure asthma, may increase the heartbeat.

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Then again, in many cases use of antibiotics lead to diarrhea. In fact, some side effects which are usually considered to be common may occur almost always or trouble just one out of 20 people. On the other hand, a side effect that is considered to be rare is likely to trouble merely one out of every 10,000 people or crop up even less frequently.

When we talk about medicament intolerance, we refer to an overwhelming reaction to any particular medicine. For instance, some people are very susceptible to aspirin and may develop a ringing sensation in their ears.

In addition, they may also feel giddy after taking only one aspirin tablet. On the contrary, any normal individual will only experience these side effects when he/ she takes several aspirin tablets.

In addition, there is something which is known as supposed idiosyncratic or characteristic reactions to medications. These types of reactions usually differ depending on the individual and usually they are not even understood properly.

It is generally thought that in a number of instances deficiency of certain enzymes may be responsible for these types of reactions to medicaments. Bone marrow failure is an excellent example of idiosyncratic reaction.

However, this reaction or effect is rare and occurs after one has used an antibiotic called chloramphenicol. In fact, this condition affects only one in 30,000 people using this antibiotic.

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In addition to all these, people also suffer from allergic reactions from using medications. In fact, roughly 15 % people taking different medications to treat their health conditions suffer from adverse side effects.

What is interesting is that frequently people who experience such side effects erroneously think and describe these side effects as "allergies" caused by these medications. However, the truth is that only a very small percentage of the adverse reactions caused by medications can actually be termed as "allergies".

It is crucial that you are able to make a distinction between intolerance and an allergy, because if you erroneously report that you are allergic to a particular medication, your physician may be compelled to prescribe a less potent or effective medication for you with a view to prevent triggering an allergic reaction.

Usually patients are of the view that if they suffer from diarrhea after taking a medication, they are possibly allergic to the drug. However, it is important to know that diarrhea is not an allergic symptom, but a very common side effect of using antibiotics as well as several other medications. Precisely speaking, diarrhea occurs when the medications modify the environment in our intestines, especially bacterial environment.

Then again, if an individual is genuinely allergic to a particular medication, he/ she should essentially tell this to their physician, because if the physician unknowingly prescribes that medication or any other drug belonging to the same class, the patient may face life-threatening risks.

True medicament allergies

Many people often ask what means they should adopt to identify medication allergies. The answer to this is simple; allergies caused by medication are similar in appearance as well as nature to the various other types of allergies.

For example, one will not develop an allergy when they use a particular medication for the first time. Before one develops an allergy from any substance, sensitivity to that substance should build up.

However, the sensitivity may build-up quite rapidly, and, as a result, the symptoms of allergy may appear even during the early stage of treatment, despite the fact that the person may not have had any problems while taking the initial few doses of the medication.

In addition, a number of people are often exposed to medications accidentally or unknowingly, our foods also contain some medications. For instance, an infant may come in contact with penicillin via breast milk.

In fact, even cow's milk may contain penicillin as well as other medicines. They may also be present in meat from animals bred in farms. In such instances, a person will be developing sensitivity to the medications even without their knowledge.

If we assume that an individual has normal exposure to different medications, he/ she are likely to experience medicament allergies in the early phase of their adulthood. However, medicament allergy can occur at any age - there is no age restriction for this.

In fact, it has been found that some elderly persons suffer from medication allergies although they may have taken the same medicine several times before.


It has been observed that in most cases, allergic reactions to any medication usually take place within a few minutes of their use. In case an individual is extremely sensitive to allergic reactions, symptoms will occur even if they take a tiny or insignificant dosage of a particular drug.

Sometimes, the reactions may even be delayed, taking anything between two and three hours to occur. However, it is rare that allergic reactions due to using certain medication will occur even later. For instance, people who are sensitive to ampicillin may suffer from hives even many weeks after using this medication. The allergic reactions due to ampicillin may last up to four months following the use of this drug.

Most of the time, the rapidity at which the allergic symptoms occur has a direct correlation with the severity of the reaction. Generally, symptoms that appear inside an hour of taking a medication have the potential to become life-threatening. On the other hand, the delayed symptoms are generally not as severe, but you still need to visit a physician to get your condition thoroughly examined.

Major adverse reactions to medicaments

When you suffer from any adverse reactions within the first few minutes or the first hour of being exposed to the drug and experience symptoms like vomiting, cramps in the stomach, breathing problems, difficulty in swallowing, choking, swelling (occasionally accompanied with hives), debility, itching or have a feeling that some kind of a disaster is imminent, you should immediately consult a medical expert.

In fact, these symptoms are an indication of the fact that you are suffering from a perilous reaction called anaphylaxis. You actually experience choking and breathing problems when there is a swelling inside the throat, which blocks the opening of the windpipe.

This is a serious condition and needs instantaneous medical attention. In addition, the feeling of an impending doom, as if you may die, is also correct. You should also seek immediate medical help or call an ambulance in case you find that there is some kind of swelling in your eyes, fingers, hands, lips and tongue, but you are not suffering from wheezing or choking.

Stop taking the next dosage of the drug, as, in such circumstances, you should discontinue the medication until your physician advises you to take it again.

Some of the common symptoms associated with medication allergy include itching together with rash or hives, swelling (angioedema), and occasionally a fever. In case you develop itching or hives after taking any medication, never take the next dose of the drug. Instead, call your physician right away.

Your physician will examine your condition to determine whether you should continue taking the medication or he/ she will prescribe a different medication for your problems.

Sometimes people also suffer from an allergic reaction known as cyanotic, wherein the skin develops a bluish tinge. In dark complexioned people this is evident on their lips, palms of their hands, soles of their feet and nail beds.

Occasionally, these allergic symptoms may be accompanied with fever and joint pains. You should contact your physician right away if you experience rash or any of the above mentioned symptoms after using a medication.

By the way, it is important to note that when you have a medication allergy, the symptoms associated with it usually fade or start improving many days after you stop using the medication.

Hives and rashes

Often severe hives may turn out to be an indication of a perilous medication allergy and it requires emergency medical attention, particularly if this occurs after administering a medication in the form of an injection.

People who are sensitive or susceptible to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are generally prone to hives and, in a number of instances this condition may be related to chronic hives, in addition to asthma attacks.

Occasionally, this kind of sensitivity is related to a food additive called tartrazine, basically an edible yellow colorant. However, it is unfortunate that some of the anti-inflammatory medications that are said to be responsible for hives are those that are used extensively for treating aches and pains, for instance ibuprofen and aspirin.

In case you are sensitive to any of these drugs, tell your physician about it and he/ she will prescribe a substitute like choline magnesium trisalicylate (Trilisate) for you.

One of the most common symptoms of medication allergy is rash (commonly known as morbilliform), which means that these rashes are similar to the measles rash having numerous miniscule reddish dots throughout the body.

These rashes cause itching, but not very severely. In fact, a morbilliform rash may develop owing to a medication allergy or also due to several viral diseases. However, you are able to distinguish between these two types of morbilliform rashes.

When you develop an allergic rash, it will cover your entire body, but will have no effect on your palms and soles, while people suffering from viral rash have them even on their palms and soles. There are times when an allergic rash will become thick, extremely reddish and also cause itching.

However, there are times when it is difficult to distinguish whether a rash has developed as a result of taking a medication or owing to any viral disease. In such situations it is necessary to undertake a biopsy of the skin rash to diagnose its origin.

However, you should not become wary when you develop a rash, because most of them are comparatively harmless, but they may still progress to exfoliative dermatitis (a form of dermatitis characterized by scaling and shedding of the skin).

As this rash spreads all over the body, the skin becomes dry and starts shedding. This is something akin to what one endures when they have a burn injury. Moreover, similar to the threats faced by burn victims, people who develop exfoliative dermatitis are also susceptible to being infected.

A number of patients who have developed exfoliative dermatitis, mainly aged people, may not survive for long. Sometimes, people may also develop exfoliative dermatitis owing to some complications related to psoriasis or atopic dermatitis (also known as eczema)

It is worth mentioning here that nearly all medications may lead to a rash, but medications which are most commonly associated with this condition include amoxicillin, sulfa drugs, penicillin, synthetic penicillin (for instance methicillin sodium and dicloxacillin sodium), hydantoin and cephalosporins (medications that are closely related to penicillin).

People suffering from a condition called mononucleosis (having an exceptionally large number of mononuclear leukocytes in the blood) have a very high risk of rash akin to measles when they use ampicillin.

In addition, people suffering from specific forms of leukemia are also prone to be vulnerable to having rash when they take ampicillin. Generally speaking, this type of allergy is not extremely severe - a small relief for a person who is already sick.

The types of rashes that develop while or after undergoing treatment with penicillin as well as cephalosporins usually do not last long, especially when the treatment is discontinued. Precisely speaking, these rashes last for a maximum period of four months when treatment has been discontinued.

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