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Allergy Basics

Drug and Workplace Allergies

Although people experience all kinds of reactions to medications, these are usually side effects of the drug (which you'll usually find listed and described in the patient information insert) rather than allergic reactions.

An unexpected allergic reaction to a drug is rare, but the symptoms can be severe, ranging from skin rashes and hives to fever and anaphylaxis, a severe and life-threatening reaction that includes swelling of the mouth and tongue, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, a drastic drop in blood pressure, unconsciousness, and even death. This section will help you to better understand the nature of drug allergies before discussing the impact of environment.

Which Drugs Can Cause Allergies?

Drugs infamous for causing allergic reactions are some of the same drugs made famous for saving countless lives, most notably penicillin and sulfa drugs. Other drugs known to cause allergic reactions include barbiturates (rare), anticonvulsants, Novocain and other local anesthetics (very rare), and insulin, especially insulin derived from animal sources. Aspirin and aspirinlike drugs are also a common cause of allergic reactions and are known to trigger asthma attacks, especially in children.

Risk for Allergic Reaction

Are you at risk for having an allergic reaction to a drug? The following will help you decide:

  • Family history. Is anyone in your family allergic to any drugs? If so, you may have inherited the allergic tendency.
  • How long have you taken a drug? You won't experience an allergic reaction the first time you take a drug; you need to develop antibodies to it, just as you do with other types of allergies. Therefore, the longer or more frequently you take a drug, the greater the chance of developing an allergy.
  • How was the drug administered? Topical medications and injected medications are more likely to cause a reaction than those taken orally.
  • Your age. Adults are more likely to have an allergic reaction to medications than children.
  • Your dosage. The higher the dose, the more likely an allergic reaction.

The Office as IncubatorIn an effort to conserve energy, modern office buildings are built as tight as tombs, often with inadequate fresh air circulation. Allergens and irritants fill the air with no place to go. Carpet-cleaning solvents leave irritating chemical residues. Fiberglass or other particles in the air bother eyes. Mold spores, freely circulating in the moist, continually running air-conditioning units, annoy sensitive noses. And, if co-workers have pets at home, there might even be animal dander floating in the atmosphere.

Enclosed office spaces aren't the only workplace susceptible to environmental problems. Many professionals and trades people, because of the chemicals they work with, also are prone to environmental allergies, whether they work indoors or out.

Professions that are susceptible to allergy include:

  • Industrial workers handling paints, chemicals, solvents, and plastics
  • Beauticians, who constantly work with hair dyes, hair perms, and nail polish and polish removers
  • Farm workers dealing with fertilizers and pesticides
  • Photocopier technicians working in enclosed offices with machines and papers that emit potentially harmful gases.
  • Medical professionals, who can become sensitized to latex (in surgical gloves)
  • Bakers, who can suffer from flour or wheat allergies, dubbed "baker's rhinitis" in honor of the most common victims.

Are Your Allergies Work-Related?Some detective work might offer clues about whether or not you're allergic to a work environment.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • When do the symptoms start and when do they stop?
  • Do symptoms start in a certain area (the copier room, for example) or when I am performing a specific job?
  • What are the symptoms like on weekends or on vacation? Bring your observations (not conclusions) to your doctor.

We will conclude our look at how allergies work with an overview of allergic reactions to insect bites and stings in the next section. This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider. The brand name products mentioned in this publication are trademarks or service marks of their respective companies. The mention of any product in this publication does not constitute an endorsement by the respective proprietors of Publications International, Ltd. or, nor does it constitute an endorsement by any of these companies that their products should be used in the manner described in this publication.