There are a number of different drug allergy symptoms that may occur. A skin rash, skin hives, itchy skin, problems with normal breathing, and swelling of the face or other parts of the body are all common drug allergy reactions. A drug allergy can also cause anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can cause extreme difficulties in breathing, chest pain, rash, and other dangerous symptoms. It can be life threatening.
Penicillin and other antibiotics in that family, antibiotics with sulfonamide, anticonvulsant medications, ibuprofen, aspirin, other NSAID drugs, and even chemotherapy medications can cause allergic reactions.
The diagnosis of a drug allergy will depend in part on the patient's history. Keeping a diary of drug reactions can be extremely helpful in diagnosis when there is a suspected allergen. Skin allergy testing can also be useful in diagnosis, particularly for penicillin family drugs. In a skin test, a very small quantity of a drug or drugs will be placed on the skin. If a person is allergic to the drug, this will often be evident when the skin in the tested area becomes inflamed, itchy, and bumpy. While a lack of response to a suspected drug allergen may seem to indicate that there is no allergy present, there may be further testing required in some cases. While less common, the allergist may also do blood tests to try to isolate the cause of the drug allergy.
Once the drug allergy is determined, strict avoidance of that drug is the first (and usually the best) way to avoid problems in the future. However, there may be situations in which a medication is necessary because there is no appropriate alternative drug that the patient can take. In these cases, the allergist may recommend drug desensitization therapy. In this type of therapy, the patient is gradually exposed to larger and larger quantities of the allergen until they are able to tolerate it without reaction.
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