First Aid for Drug allergy

Fact Checked

Drug allergies occur due to an over-active immune system in response to the exposure to a certain drug. The immune system makes up the defence mechanism of the body that combats infection. Upon exposure to a certain trigger or drug, the immune system releases chemicals in response to the exposure. This results in inflammation of the nose, lungs, throat, skin and/or intestines and thus, gives rise to an allergic reaction.

Disclaimer: The material posted on this page are for information purposes. To learn more about allergic reactions, anaphylaxis and proper methods of helping indivduals with medication (ex: 6 rights to medication) enrol in St Mark James first aid training.


Signs and symptoms usually kick in within an hour of the injection of the drug.

drug overdose
First aid and CPR training can help you recognize and manage victims of drug allergies

Common signs and symptoms of less serious cases of drug allergy include:

  • Generalized rash
  • Erthyma multiforme
  • Sensitivity to sunlight
  • Hives
  • Urticaria
  • Redness of the eyes
  • Itching including genital itching
  • Swelling
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose

Severe symptoms of drug allergy include:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Chest pain
  • Facial swelling such as lip or eye swelling
  • Mouth swelling and/or tongue swelling
  • Dizziness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Sever hives
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fainting
  • Vomiting
  • Severe wheezing

Seek immediate medical attention if any of the above mentioned symptoms develop. Your doctor may treat the allergy with antihistamines, epinephrine injections, corticosteroids and other forms of medication that may help relieve the symptoms of the allergic reaction. Some people may also benefit from allergic shots.


1. See your doctor if any of the following symptoms result from the allergic reaction:

  • Fever
  • Discomfort
  • Fast-spreading blistered area that seems to be red and very painful
  • The top layer of the skin begins to peel off without any crusts or blistering
  • The symptoms radiate towards the mouth, eyes and genitals
  • Raw regions of flesh that may look scalded

Seek immediate medical attention if any of the following symptoms result from the allergic reaction:

  • Skin rash, feeling of warmth, itchiness or hives
  • Swelling of the tongue, lips or face—without breathing difficulty or aggravation of inflammation

2. Stop the use of  the drug(s) that may have caused the allergic reaction

3. Control symptoms of the drug allergic reaction such as itching

  • For mild reactions, over the counter antihistamines can be given to adults suffering from drug allergies. Consult your doctor before giving antihistamines to your child
  • Apply a cool compress on the itchy area or take cool showers
  • Avoid using detergents, strong soaps or other chemicals that may worsen symptoms
  • Keep yourself cool. Stay in a cool room and avoid the sun as much as possible. Wear loose-fitting, light clothes that are made for hot weathers especially cotton
  • Rashes can be treated using calamine lotion

Call your doctor if the home treatment methods do not work or if the symptoms begin to worsen. Ask your doctor about what drugs you should avoid and any other alternative medicines you can take to treat certain conditions that are targeted by the drugs that cause the allergic reaction. You may require staying at the hospital, in case of severe conditions that require monitored treatment.

Learn More

To learn more about allergic reactions and aiding individuals with taking medication take St Mark James training courses (enrol here).

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