Drug Allergies

What is a drug allergy?

A drug allergy happens when you have a harmful reaction to a medicine you use. Your body’s immune system fights back by setting off an allergic reaction. Most drug allergies are mild, and the symptoms go away within a few days after you stop using the medicine. But some drug allergies can be very serious.

Some drug allergies go away with time. But after you have an allergic reaction to a drug, you will probably always be allergic to that drug. You can also be allergic to other drugs that are like it.

A drug allergy is one type of harmful, or adverse, drug reaction. Symptoms and treatments of different kinds of adverse reactions vary. So your doctor will want to find out if you have a true drug allergy or if you have another type of bad reaction that isn’t as serious.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of a drug allergy can range from mild to very serious. They include:

  • Hives or welts, a rash, blisters, or a skin problem called eczema. These are the most common symptoms of drug allergies.
  • Coughing, wheezing, a runny nose, and trouble breathing.
  • A fever.
  • A serious skin condition that makes your skin blister and peel.
  • Anaphylaxis, which is the most dangerous reaction. It can be deadly, and you will need emergency treatment. Symptoms, such as hives and trouble breathing, usually appear within 1 hour after you take the medicine. Without quick care, you could go into shock.

How is a drug allergy diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose a drug allergy by asking you questions about the medicines you take and about any medicines you have taken in the recent past. Your doctor will also ask about your past health and your symptoms. He or she will do a physical exam. If this doesn’t tell your doctor whether you have a drug allergy, then he or she may do skin tests. Or your doctor may have you take small doses of a medicine to see if you have a reaction. In some cases, you may need a blood test or other type of testing.

Resources for further information and websites:
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology