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Skin Allergies to Drugs
Cutaneous drug reactions are adverse responses to drugs that appear on the skin. A red, itchy rash and hives are the most common reactions, however there are many different types, and some are life-threatening. Drugs that most frequently cause problems include sulfa drugs, antibiotics such as penicillins and tetracyclines, and phenytoin (a drug that prevents convulsions).
Signs and Symptoms
What Causes It?
Some drugs that might cause cutaneous reactions include the following.
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Your health care provider will examine your skin, mouth, and throat. He or she will ask you to list the drugs (prescription, nonprescription, and illegal) and herbal and vitamin supplements you've taken over the last four weeks. Your provider may have you stop taking the suspected drug and prescribe something else.
Choice of treatment depends on the type of reaction you are having and how serious it is. Often symptoms disappear once you stop taking the suspected drug. However, your health care provider may still need to prescribe drugs to stop the reaction. If you also have life-threatening symptoms, such as trouble breathing, you will be hospitalized until you are stable.
Over the Counter
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Mild to moderate reactions may be safely and effectively treated with alternative therapies.
Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. Tinctures may be used singly or in combination as noted.
An infusion of equal parts of coneflower (Echinacea augustifolia), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), peppermint (Mentha piperita), and red clover (Trifolium pratense) will strengthen your immune system, reduce swelling, and help with lymph drainage (fluid that is part of immune system).
To relieve itching, use one or more of the following herbs brewed as a tea, 1 tsp. of herb per cup of water: peppermint (Mentha piperata), chickweed (Stellaria media), or chamomile (Matricaria recutita). Be sure the tea is cool, and apply to the affected area as needed. To help your skin heal, add one or more of the following: marigold (Calendula officinalis), comfrey (Symphytum officinale), or coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia).
For open sores use powdered slippery elm (Ulmus fulva), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), and marshmallow root (Althea officinale). Add enough skin wash to make a paste. Apply to affected area as needed.
Aloe vera gel applied to your skin can soothe burning and reduce swelling. For further skin relief, add powdered oatmeal (or 1 cup of oatmeal in a sock) to a lukewarm bath. Or, make a skin balm from flaxseed oil (2 tbsp.) plain or with 5 drops of oil of chamomile (Matricaria recutita) or marigold (Calendula officinalis).
Some of the most common remedies used for cutaneous drug reactions are listed below. Usually, the dose is 12X to 30C every one to four hours until your symptoms get better.
It is important to stay in touch with your health care provider until the reaction is completely cleared up. If you have severe reactions, wear medical-alert jewelry stating what drugs you are allergic to.
If you have any questions about any drug—whether it is prescribed by your health care provider or purchased over the counter—ask your pharmacist or health care provider.
American Academy of Dermatology. Guidelines of care for cutaneous adverse drug reactions. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1996;35:458-461. Available at www.aad.org/guidelinecutaneousdrug.html.
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