Drug Allergy or Side Effect? Why You Need to Know

Health Minute     Fall 2018
Drug Allergy or Side Effect Why You Need to Know - Large

You’re taking that medicine to be healthier, right? But sometimes, helpful drugs can harm. Each year, millions of Americans experience unwanted reactions to prescription medicine — reactions that are bad enough to send them to their doctor’s office or the emergency room.

How to Tell Drug Allergies from Side Effects

Doctors call these unwanted or unexpected symptoms “adverse reactions,” and they’re not uncommon. Yet, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology says true allergies account for only a small number of these reactions – about 5 to 10 percent. Instead, many reactions are side effects — annoying but not serious. They are often mild, like stomachaches or sleepiness, and disappear after you stop taking the drug.

Most drug allergies respond to treatment, but you have to take them seriously and act fast.

Real drug allergies – the ones you want to watch out for – are different, with reactions ranging from mild to life threatening.

Common Drug Side Effects

Most of the unwanted symptoms you might experience from taking a prescription drug are not caused by an allergic reaction. Telling the difference can be hard, because drug sensitivities may trigger symptoms similar to an allergic reaction. But unlike allergies, side effects don't involve the immune system.

"There are many times that the risk of a side effect from a drug will be outweighed by the benefit that medication has on that person's health," says Anessa Allapatt, MD, Fairborn Medical Center. "If you are experiencing a little bit of nausea in the morning versus the medication is saving your life, it is probably worth it to take the medication."

You can find the possible side effects on the drug’s label or package insert. Common side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Bruising
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness

Common Signs of Drug Allergy

Drug allergies can occur the first time you take a drug, or they may develop over time. The first time you take a medicine, you may have no problem. Eventually, however, your body can build up antibodies that trigger an allergic reaction

Common symptoms of a drug allergy include:Drug Allergy or Side Effect Why You Need to Know - In Content

  • Hives
  • Itchy skin or eyes
  • Skin rash
  • Swollen lips, tongue or face
  • Wheezing

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening, severe allergic reaction, including:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing with wheezing or hoarse voice
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting or light headedness
  • Hives on different parts of your body
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid pulse
  • Heart palpitations

Should I Get Medical Help?

If you’re having trouble breathing or severe anaphylaxis, go to the emergency room or call 911. These are potentially life-threatening conditions. Most drug allergies respond to treatment, but you have to take them seriously and act fast.

If your body’s response to a prescription drug just doesn’t feel normal or right, call your doctor noting what your symptoms are and when they started. Side effects may be temporary, until your boy gets used to the drug. Or they may signal that you need a different form of the treatment. Your doctor can help.