A sulfa allergy is a hypersensitive reaction of the body towards all those medicines that contain sulfonamides. It is a key component of several antibiotics that are used to treat various infections. It is also present in various non-antibiotic medicines such as diabetic medicines, anti-inflammatory medicines, migraine medicines, and so on.
It has been found that the chances of sulfa allergy is more from antibiotic sulfonamides than from any other non-antibiotic medicines with sulfonamides. Moreover, it can happen to people of any age group. Usually, a person is not born with this drug allergy and it develops at a later stage of life. People with immune system problems such as those who are affected by HIV or AIDS are at a higher risk of getting this kind of allergic reaction.
The symptoms often vary from mild to severe in every individual case. The signs and symptoms of the allergy start showing up soon after the use of the drugs. As the immune system start releasing histamines and antibodies, it results in skin reactions such as hives or skin rashes that gives mild to severe itching sensation. If these rashes are exposed to direct sunlight, then they tend to become more severe. These rashes are often accompanied by fever.
A more severe form of allergic reaction can have an adverse effect on the blood cells resulting in reduction of blood cells and blood platelets. It can attack the respiratory system causing wheezing, breathing difficulty, and pneumonia. Sometimes, it can cause swelling in the tissues of throat area leading to blockage in the air passage. This is known as anaphylaxis which could be a life-threatening condition. In rare cases, it may even affect the internal organs and lead to liver and kidney problems.
Sulfa drug allergy cannot be diagnosed with the help of any laboratory tests. A person who is under sulfonamide medication and is experiencing one or more of the aforementioned symptoms, should consult the doctor without any delay. Doctors identify the allergic reaction with the help of physical examination of the affected person.
The first step of the treatment is discontinuation of the medicines that trigger the symptoms. Thus, any further aggravation of the symptoms can be prevented. It is followed by medicinal treatment of the symptoms. For mild symptoms such as itchy hives and rashes, antihistamine medicines are given. Bronchodilator medicines are administered to people with symptoms of asthma attack.
To treat the inflammation caused by the allergy, corticosteroid medicines are often used. The affected people with anaphylaxis symptoms should be rushed to the emergency room where a specific medicine, epinephrine (adrenaline), is administered through injections to treat the condition. Then the affected person is kept under observation for respiratory and cardiac care.
In those cases where sulfonamide drugs are unavoidable for treating certain infections, allergists try to desensitize the affected person towards that particular medicine. For this, they give very small doses of the drug to him/her for some time to improve their tolerance towards it. As the body starts enduring it, the dose is increased.
Sulfa allergy cannot be prevented as there are no such tests that can detect it before intake of the drugs. However, once you have experienced those symptoms, any further recurrence can be prevented by avoiding this group of drugs and medicines altogether. One should always keep their doctors, pharmacists, and dentists informed that he/she is allergic to sulfa drugs.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.