Allergic to Sulfa Drugs

Sulfa allergy refers to the adverse drug reaction to sulfonamides. Sulfonamides are a group of drugs which may or may not contain antibiotic characteristics. Sulfonamide antibiotics were first used for treating infections. Most common sulfa antibiotics are Pediazole®, Septra® and Bactrim®.

Nearly, 3% of people suffer from adverse reactions of sulfa drug, like other antibiotics including penicillin. Certain people are at higher risk for allergy to sulfa drugs, such as people suffering from certain immune problems like AIDS. At least 60% of people show sulpha allergy symptoms. Anti-microbial sulphonamides are structurally different from non-antibiotic sulphonamides, which also cause similar allergic reactions. All sulfa drugs have common allergy symptoms, thus these should be carefully prescribed. Since, sulfites and sulfates are chemically unrelated and they do not cause the similar reactions as sulfonamides.

Symptoms of Sulfa Drugs Allergy

Following are some of the symptoms of sulfa drug allergic reactions.
Kidney and liver injury – Those with sulfa allergy may also experience kidney failure and a type of hepatitis, due to sulfa medications.

Skin reactions – Skin ailments are the most common adverse effects of sulfa drugs, which range from several benign rashes to the life threatening toxic epidermal necrolysis and Stevens Johnson syndrome. Hives as well as increased photo sensitivity (sensitivity to sunlight) can also be observed. If you observe a mild rash and continue taking sulfa medications, the skin reaction may become adverse.

Blood Reactions – Allergic to sulfa drugs may also afflict several blood cells, leading to decreased red blood cells, platelets and white blood cells, through the immunologic-mediated manner.

Lung Reactions – Sulfa drug allergy may also afflict the lung, with pneumonia like reactions by worsening asthma and development of vasculitis.

Muscles and joints pain – Sulfa drugs can result in muscle and joints pain, which can occur within a week of taking sulfa medicines.

Breathing difficulty – Severe reactions of sulfa drugs can cause breathing problems as it can worsen the asthma conditions.

Diagnosis of Sulfa Allergy

Blood test or a skin test is not available for diagnosing sulfa allergy. Hence, diagnosis is made when a person taking the sulfonamide medicine, experiences consistent symptoms of sulfa allergy.

Treatment for Sulfa Allergy

If an individual experiences severe reaction to the sulfa drug, he/she should stop using that medication. The symptoms of the allergy must be treated, particularly in people experiencing toxic epidermal necrolysis or Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

Sometimes, where a sulfa drug is required for treating certain infections, an individual may be desensitized to the medicine. Initially, this is done by giving small amounts of medicine by increasing the amount of medication over a time period such that the medicine is tolerated. The sulfonamide medicine may be used cautiously despite of adverse effects. You must consult the allergist to manage drug allergies.

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