We hear a lot about food allergies these days but many don’t realize that a new study indicates that medications are the biggest cause of sudden deaths. For more than a decade, almost 60% of allergy-related deaths were from medicines. This is compared to less than 7% from food allergies. (See Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology)

When we have an allergic reaction, our immune system overreacts to the allergen. This releases certain chemicals that cause hives or itchiness in the mouth or throat. This is according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI). The more serious response is anaphylaxis which leads to difficulty breathing, wheezing, throat swelling, etc. Obviously, if someone becomes anaphylactic, they will need a shot of epinephrine.  The United States and Australia have the worst rates of severe anaphylaxis.

The study shows that it was medications that caused the serious injury and deaths 59% of the time. There was no cause in death certificates 19% of the time and food was involved in less than 7% of the deaths. Another 15% was from venom. Many times the drug causing the death could not be ascertained. However, when it could it was an antibiotic 40% of the time as well as radiocontrast agents used in diagnostic studies or chemo or cancer. That is my problem. I am allergic to IVP dye. Thus, I always tell doctors and hospital I cannot get that contrast because the next time could kill me. We must not forget that our reactions can get worse each time not better or less. Notably, older adults had a higher risk level.

Reading labels, talking with your pharmacist, having injectable epi pens or drugs around and calling the doctor or ER or squad asap are all  important actions to take to protect yourself or loved ones. When in doubt, get right to the hospital. Like ER doctors act  which is “think worst first,” you do the same because it is better to be safe than sorry, as the old adage goes.