Prevention Is the Best Medicine

The preventive measures outlined here apply to all drug reactions, including allergic. Most important, if you have allergies, don't self medicate. As you can see, some of the most common causes of drug allergy – aspirin and other pain relievers – can be purchased without a prescription at the supermarket or corner store.

When your doctor does the prescribing, the cardinal rule is careful and conservative use of medications: the lowest doses, for as short a time a necessary. ”The simplest way to reduce or prevent allergic drug reactions is to prescribe medication only when clearly indicated,” writes Dr. DeSwarte in the book, Allergies Disease (J.B. Lippincott, 1972). ”Medications, especially antibiotics, are often used inappropriately, too frequently and over a prolonged period of time.”

Too many people demand a ”penicillin shot” for every cold or sniffle – unnecessarily upping the odds for an allergic reaction. Dr. DeSwarte says that out of a group of 30 people who died from penicillin induced anaphylaxis, only 12 really required penicillin.

Chances are, though, that sooner or later you will have a legitimate need for medication. Ideally, your doctor should be well glance at the cumbersome volumes, such as Physicians’ Desk Reference or AMA Drug Evaluations, which list dozens of possible reactions to thousands of drugs, make it obvious that no doctor could possibly keep abreast of it all.

Physicians must be particularly cautions with newly introduced drugs, and be prepared for reactions which have not yet been reported. Penicillin, for example, was initially regarded as a very low risk drug. As time passed and more doctors prescribed it, reactions appeared.

You can help your doctor guard against problems by looking up possible side effects yourself. My husband and, I for example, were planning a vacation in the Caribbean, so we asked our family doctor for an antibiotic to take along in the event we came down with Montezuma’s revenge or some other traveler’s scourge.

He prescribe Minocin (minocycline hydrochloride), an antibiotic which he told us to take prophylactically – starting three days before we left – to stop any trouble before it began. He said that Minocin was widely used by people like ourselves who were headed for the tropics.

Before going to the pharmacy to have the prescription filled, I looked up Minocin in Physicians’ Desk Reference, which said that the drug can induce photosensitivity – a skin reaction to sunlight. That could be bad news for two people looking forward to a week of swimming and beachcombing. We took the drug anyway, but the knowledge of a possible reaction prepared us to discontinue it's use at the first sign of red or itchy skin.

If you, your child or an elderly parent ever experience a drug reaction of any kind, be sure to jot down the name of the drug (both trade name and chemical name: for instance, Tylenol/acetaminophen) and how you or they reacted. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for the names of suitable alternatives and possible hidden sources of related chemicals.

Add that information to your home medical file and bring it to the attention of medical personnel should you or your relatives land in a hospital emergency room or change doctors (that includes dentist). Better yet, buy a tag or card designating drugs to be avoided, available from Medic Alert Foundation International, P.O. Box 1009, Turlock, CA 95380.

And last, when your doctor takes your medical history and asks if you’re taking any drugs, don't forget to mention things like mouth washes, vitamins, birth control pills, menstrual aids and suppositories. When it comes to drug allergy, you just can't take anything for granted. With these preventive measures, drugs should do what they're meant to – help you get healthy again.