Sulfa Allergy Symptoms

Sulfa allergies are adverse reactions of the immune system to sulfonamides group of drugs. There is confusion prevalent on the usage of the term. This is often mistakenly used for allergies of sulfite, sulfate salts and the chemical element sulfur. But the fact is that sulfa allergies applies only to sulfonamides group of drugs, that includes those without and with antibiotic characteristics.

Although antibiotic sulfonamides were the first drugs which were used to treat infections, nowadays they are not used due to their common side effects. It is estimated that the overall incidence of the drug reactions or adverse reactions is approximately 3%. People with immune problems are at higher risk of developing allergic reactions. Common antibiotics of this group are Bactrim, Septra and Pediazole. The following article discusses about sulfa allergy symptoms and treatment.

Symptoms of Sulfa Allergy

Following are some of the signs and symptoms of sulfa allergy:
Skin condition – People allergic to sulfonamide drugs experience skin ailments after taking these medicines. The most common skin conditions include hives, skin rashes and irritation. Some people also complain about increased photo sensitivity or sensitivity to light. Even life threatening skin diseases like toxic epidermal necrosis and Stevens-Johnson syndrome can occur due to allergic reaction.

Lung reactions – Lung reactions are very common in people who have both an underlying respiratory tract condition and sulfa drugs allergy. After administering these drugs, the patients may show the symptoms that resemble those of exacerbated asthma and pneumonia.

Respiratory symptoms – Difficulty in breathing is another most common symptom. Within a few hours after taking medicine, one may experience shortness of breath, wheezing and chest tightness.

Blood disorder – As discussed earlier, allergic reaction to sulfa drug is associated with hypersensitive immune responses. Thus, sulfa allergy symptoms include abnormal reactions of the blood such as reduced blood platelets and blood cells.

Anaphylaxis – This condition is primarily associated with extreme allergic reaction cases. A person with anaphylactic shock may experience loss of consciousness, irregular heartbeats, shortness of breath, vomiting and nausea. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition, thus immediate medical attention is essential.

Other symptoms of sulfa allergy – Rarely, consumption of sulfonamide drugs can damage the internal organs such as liver and kidney. In people who are allergic to sulfa drugs, administration of the same may result in kidney failure, hepatitis and liver damage.

Diagnosis of Sulfa Allergy

In diagnosis, the symptoms are observed, especially the skin. There is no particular skin test or blood test which can be taken as the standard diagnosis procedure for sulfa allergy. As symptoms differ from person to person, diagnosis is individualized. The symptoms are analyzed and studied when the person is taking a sulfonamide medication. It is also done when the medication is stopped.

Treatment of Sulfa Allergy

Treatment depends on the cause of reaction. For mild symptoms the individual is asked to stop the medication. Usually this is all that is done to resolve the problem.
If the reaction is severe then it requires immediate medical attention.
• Skin rashes is the common symptom of sulfa allergy that ranges from mild rashes to severe rashes such as toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN) and Steven’s-Johnson syndrome (SJS). For mild rashes, antihistamine medication works where as for TEN and SJS, special treatment is given.
• People suffering from asthma should be more careful in taking sulfa drugs as sulfanilamides worsen the condition. For treating such people, Bronchodilator medications are given.
• Inflammatory diseases are the other serious symptoms of sulfanilamides. These symptoms can be treated by corticosteroids, which can be applied to skin, given intravenously or orally.
• Anaphylaxis is another severe symptom of sulfa drugs. This causes irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, vomiting and nausea which can lead to loss of consciousness. This requires immediate doctor’s attention where the patient is treated with epinephrine injections.

Desensitization – In some cases the person who is allergic to sulfa medication will not have any other choice rather than using medication despite of the allergic reaction. The person needs to be desensitized to the medication. Desensitization is achieved by giving very little amounts of drug, orally or intravenously, with increasing doses over hours or days. This gradual building up of the dose increases the tolerance of the body. Desensitization is done in a hospital under the supervision of an allergist.

If you observe any of these symptoms, consult the medical practitioner as soon as possible. The physician will be very careful in prescribing sulfa medications and in some cases, prescribing these medications cannot be avoided. If this is the case, the patient is initially provided with small doses of medicine either orally or intravenously so that intolerance is developed and therefore the dosage can be increased overtime.

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