Sulfa allergy and kidney damage are common sulfa drugs side effects. Read on to know more about the adverse effects of taking sulfonamides on the body and its interactions with several drugs.
Sulfa drugs or sulfonamides are medications used to treat bacterial and fungal infections. Prontosil was the first one discovered by German physician Gerhard Domagk in 1935. Though not known to kill bacteria, these medicines inhibit their growth and help in treatment of bacterial infections.
There are several known sulfa drugs side effects, but in spite of them, it is still used for the treatment of some form of malaria, urinary tract infection, ear infection, bacterial meningitis, and many other infections. Sulfisoxazole (Gantrisin) and combination drug sulfamethoxazole, and trimethoprim (Bactrim, Cotrim) are the most common types of sulfonamides. These are available in liquid form or as tablets for oral and topical use. Septra, Pediazole, and Bactrim are the most common sulfa drugs available today.
There are various side effects of sulfa antibiotics as well as non-antibiotic sulfonamides. Antibiotic sulfa drugs differ structurally from the non-antibiotic ones, and the antibiotic form is more likely cause side effects. Sulfadiazine and sulfamethoxazole are the members of sulfonamides group that are used as antibiotics. Though most of the symptoms go away within a few days, you should always see a physician if the condition worsens.
Sulfa allergy is a very common side effect. People with lower immunity fall into the category of those at risk from sulfa drugs allergy. Common symptoms are skin reactions leading to hives and rashes. In severe cases even the face, tongue, and lips swell up. It might also lead to anaphylaxis, where the swelling of the throat makes breathing and swallowing difficult, and this condition needs immediate medical help.
Another common sulfa drugs side effect is the increase in the skin’s sensitivity to light. This leads to the skin getting sunburned very easily and people experiencing this are often recommended to wear protective clothing and sunscreen to avoid direct sunlight.
Neurological Side Effects
Though not very severe, some people taking sulfa drugs also complain of headaches, drowsiness, and dizziness. In severe cases, even fainting and hallucinations have been noticed and hence, intake of these drugs should be immediately discontinued.
Gastrointestinal Side Effects
Most of the gastrointestinal side effects disappear after the discontinuation of the drug. The common gastrointestinal conditions resulting due in the use of sulfa drugs are, diarrhea, nausea, gas in abdomen, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
Sulfa drugs also have the potential to cause injury and damage to the liver. These liver injury symptoms include jaundice or dark urine, where the patient becomes highly susceptible to bleeding and bruising.
Upon interaction with certain antibiotics, sulfa drugs are said to cause damage to the kidneys. This further leads to conditions like painful and difficult urination, sometimes with traces of blood. Kidney damage could also sometimes lead to flank pain.
Muscle and Body Ache
Another rare side effect is myalgia. Myalgia occurs usually due to viral infection, but could also result from the reaction of sulfa drugs. This causes the muscles and bones to ache and feel sore. This aggravates the condition further leading to severe joint pain.
Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is considered one of the most dangerous sulfa drugs side effects. Purple or red blisters appear all over the body that leads to shedding of skin on the affected area, and makes the skin susceptible to bacterial infections. Patients who have been taking these drugs should immediately see a doctor upon noticing purple blisters on the skin.
Other Drug Interactions with Sulfa Drugs
There are many medicines which might have reactions with sulfa drugs. This increases the risk of side effect. Hence, precautions are taken by a physician while prescribing medicines. The following are some medications that have a higher possibility of interaction with sulfa drugs:
- Birth Control Pills
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Hyperactive thyroid medicines
- Anticoagulant warfarin (Coumadin)
- Anti-diabetic medication glyburide (Micronase)
- Anticancer drug methotrexate (Rheumatrex)
- Medication for alcohol abuse alcohol disulfiram (Antabuse)
- Antiseizure valproic acid (Depakote, Depakene)
- Diuretic Hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ, HydroDIURIL)
Use of sulfa drugs can be limited, but cannot be stopped. Hence, it is important to take precautions to avoid sulfa drugs side effects. Always consult a doctor before taking any drugs if you suffer from allergies, asthma, kidney, and liver diseases. It is also advisable for breastfeeding mothers and pregnant ladies to avoid sulfa drugs as far as possible.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.