What Is a Drug Allergy?

Many people report having drug allergies when they’ve really experienced an adverse drug reaction. Learn the differences between the two.
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While an allergy usually isn’t much more than a nuisance, a serious one can potentially lead to a life-threatening situation. When the allergen is a medication, the situation can be especially critical. Still, people who are allergic to certain medications have options. They can manage the symptoms caused by adverse reactions, avoid the symptoms altogether by taking a different drug, or work with an allergist to desensitize themselves to drugs that trip their immune systems’ triggers.
Drug Allergy: The Basics

A drug allergy occurs when a person’s immune system responds to a medication or drug as a foreign substance, causing a reaction, including skin irritations (rashes or hives), breathing problems, swelling, and intestinal pain. Adverse drug reactions (ADRs) often occur when people take too much of a medicine, or when one medication they are taking reacts with another drug in their system. ADRs usually subside and sufferers begin to feel better 24 to 48 hours after discontinuing the medication.

“Most people experience adverse reactions at some point, but there are far fewer true allergic reactions,” says Jerry Schier, MD, a board-certified allergist, assistant clinical professor, George Washington University School of Medicine.

While ADRs and allergic reactions are more annoying than they are serious, rare-but-serious reactions can include loss of consciousness and anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic response that may include abdominal cramping, dizziness, fainting, breathing difficulty and vomiting, among other symptoms.

Some of most common ADRs and drug allergies occur in response to these groups of medicines:

Aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs, such as ibuprofen
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors

Women have more allergic reactions than men do, and infants and the elderly have fewer allergic reactions than the general population. But, Dr. Schier says, “You can develop a drug allergy at any time in your life.”
Drug Allergy: Management and Treatment Options

In case of an allergic reaction or ADR, stop taking the medication immediately, and be prepared to find a medical facility fast, in case the reaction becomes serious.

Lesser symptoms can usually be treated with antihistamines, which reduce itching and swelling, and corticosteroids, which reduce swelling and inflammation.
Drug Allergy: Preventing Problems

Some people with drug allergy can benefit from desensitization, when a patient (in a hospital or doctor’s office, under the supervision of an allergist) ingests a small amount of the potential allergen in order to reduce the body’s allergic response to the medicine.

To avoid problems, patients should give their prescribing physician or pharmacist a detailed listing of all of the medications they take, both prescription and over-the-counter (including vitamins and other supplements).

When a new medicine is introduced, patients must understand and follow all drug dosage instructions carefully. Any unusual reaction should be reported to the prescribing physician or other health care professional immediately.

“Probably the biggest problem with drug allergy is the documentation,” Schier says. “I absolutely love patients who come in with a list of everything they’re on and a detailed list of what happened when they took (the offending drug).”

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology suggests logging when the medicine was taken, when symptoms began, how long the symptoms lasted, and any other medicines that were taken during the same period of time.

Even if you did not have a true drug allergy, this information will help you and your doctor understand what happened should a problem or unusual reaction occur. In addition, this information will be critical in helping you and your doctor figure out how to prevent it from happening in the future.

7 Ways to Get Dust Mites Under Control

Try these simple strategies to manage dust mite allergies.
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Winter can be tough on people who have allergies to dust mites, one of the biggest culprits when it comes to indoor allergies. As many as 10 percent of Americans are sensitive to dust mites and in some regions they play a role in 90 percent of allergic asthma cases, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Where Are Dust Mites Found?

Dust mites are everywhere, even in the cleanest of houses. “You can’t get rid of [dust mites]; there is no way,” says Julie McNairn, MD, an allergist/immunologist in Cincinnati. “You have to just contain them.” Dead dust mites and dust mite waste products make up some of the dust you can see floating in the air or sitting on a hard surface. They also live in your bedding, upholstered furniture, rugs, and carpeting.
Diagnosing Dust Mite Allergies

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis from dust mite allergens are like those from other causes of allergic rhinitis, including pollen, animal dander, and include itchy eyes and nose, sneezing, and a runny nose. Allergens from dust mites can also trigger asthma symptoms.

If you have asthma or sneezing, a runny nose, and itchy and watery eyes that bother you all year — or all season — long, an allergist can find out if dust mite allergens are triggering your symptoms.

Without allergy testing, it’ll be difficult to tell whether you’re reacting to dust mites or have an allergy to another substance, such as pollen or mold. But one clue, says Dr. McNairn, is that people with dust mite allergies tend to have the most severe symptoms first thing in the morning. The reason: “You have been sleeping in your room with the dust mites all night long,” McNairn says. “And your bedroom is where the dust levels are high.”
Managing Dust Mite Allergies

Allergy medications and immunotherapy (allergy shots) can help manage symptoms in people who have an allergy to dust mites. And while you can’t get rid of dust mites, you can learn to reduce your daily exposure to them, says McNairn. Here’s how.

Keep the relative humidity in your home below 50 percent. A dehumidifier placed in damp areas such as the basement can help accomplish this.
Replace carpeting with hard floor surfaces such as hardwood, linoleum, or tile.
Wash your bedding in hot water regularly.
Minimize the number of soft objects in your home that you can’t clean (stuffed animals and pillows, for instance).
Have a person who is not allergic to dust mites or other indoor allergens do the cleaning in your home.
If you clean, wear a face mask and goggles to limit your exposure to airborne dust mite allergens.
Consider replacing upholstered furniture with leather furniture, which can be wiped down.

It might take a little work to keep the dust mites under control, but it’ll be worth it — and your house will be cleaner for it.