Know Your Allergies

Doctor separates facts from myths about drug reactions

By Pat Lawson Muse
|  Saturday, Oct 15, 2011  |  Updated 9:04 AM EDT
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<a title=Dr. Jackie Eghrari-Sabet, of Family Allergy & Asthma Care in Gaithersburg, Md., on the importance of knowing your allergies before getting medical treatment." />

Dr. Jackie Eghrari-Sabet, of Family Allergy & Asthma Care in Gaithersburg, Md., on the importance of knowing your allergies before getting medical treatment.

 

"Are you allergic to latex?"
 
It’s one of the first questions you get asked in the ER. The answer is that many people are, but doctors say most of them have either had a lot of surgery or work in the health care industry. 
 
One in every 5 Americans suffers from an allergy. Some of us are allergic to pollen and dust. Others are allergic to things like latex, iodine, penicillin and pain meds. 
 
“Fortunately there’s not as much concern about latex in hospitals today as there used to be because most hospitals are now latex-free,” said Dr. Jackie Eghrari-Sabet of Family Allergy & Asthma Care in Gaithersburg.
 
Before you wind up in the hospital, you need to determine exactly what you’re allergic to and what you don’t need to worry about. For example, a lot of folks believe they are allergic to penicillin, but according to Dr. Jackie, “only about 6 percent of people who think they are allergic to penicillin actually are allergic to it.”
 
If you get a CT scan and need contrast, they tend to ask if you’re allergic to iodine, shellfish or salt. However, that concern may be somewhat outdated. “It’s really kind of an old school concern,” said Dr. Jackie. “There used to be a salty dye that caused reactions in a lot of people. But those dyes are really not around anymore.”
 
Some folks think they’re allergic to pain meds. While Dr. Jackie says you can get a little itchy from medications like morphine and codeine, technically that is not an allergy, it’s just a reaction. And   doctors can give you something to counteract that response.
 
On the other hand, drugs that you really need to watch out for are anti-inflammatory medications, or NSAIDS, like ibuprofen or aspirin. Some people may suffer severe reactions such as swollen lips, throat, eyes, hives or difficulty breathing. ”This kind of reaction can be deadly,” said Dr. Jackie. “Also, people who need to take a daily aspirin for heart health can develop an allergy, but there’s a fix for this. We give you small amounts of aspirin daily until you build up a tolerance.”
 
Finally, allergic reactions to anesthetics tend to be rare. As far as local anesthesia is concerned, people often report it causes a racing heart beat. “That’s from the epinephrine. Others get queasy and faint,“ she said. “More often than not, that’s just a reaction to seeing a needle,” said Dr. Jackie. 
 
However, general anesthesia is a different story. “Propofol, commonly used in the OR, contains sulfites, which are a preservative known to cause severe reactions in some people," said Dr. Jackie. "You really need to know whether you’re allergic to this one before you reach the hospital door, because this kind of allergy could be deadly.”

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