Non-Food Allergens

Food is not the only allergen that can cause anaphylaxis. Learn about allergic reactions to medication, latex and insect stings.

Unfortunately, food is not the only allergen that can cause anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction.

Medications

According to estimates, up to 1 percent of the population may be at risk for allergic reactions to medications. Anaphylactic reactions to medication typically occur within an hour after taking the drug, but they may occur up to several hours later.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), giving a drug frequently increases a person’s chances of developing an allergic reaction. The same is also true for medications applied on the skin or by injection (rather than by mouth). Genetics related to the immune system may also play a role. However, having a family history of reaction to a specific drug does not mean you have a higher chance of being allergic to that drug.

If you are allergic to any antibiotic, you are more likely to react to other drugs than people who have no medication allergies.

Recent research show that 90 percent of patients who have a history of allergic reactions to penicillin can eventually tolerate the drug. Patients who need penicillin may be able to undergo a procedure to make their immune system less sensitive to the antibiotic—under the supervision of their physician.

If you experience symptoms of an allergic reaction after taking a medication, speak to your doctor. If symptoms are severe, or if they resemble those of anaphylaxis, use epinephrine and get emergency medical help immediately.

Anaphylaxis is not the only allergic reaction or side effect that can develop from taking medications. Milder reactions may resolve on their own without treatment, as in the case of an itchy rash caused by using antibiotics when you have a viral infection. Symptoms of more severe reactions include joint swelling, kidney damage and liver inflammation.

If you are concerned about medication side effects, talk with your healthcare provider. For more information about allergies to medication, please visit AAAAI’s website.

Latex

Latex allergy is most common in individuals who are exposed to latex frequently, such as those who work in the healthcare or rubber industries. Children with spina bifida and other congenital diseases requiring multiple surgeries may also be at higher risk.

An estimated 1 percent of the U.S. population has latex allergy. This figure is much higher—between 10 and 17 percent—among those employed in healthcare occupations.

Symptoms of a latex allergy can range from mild to severe. Use epinephrine and seek immediate medical help for any severe symptoms that could be possible signs of anaphylaxis.

Some individuals with latex allergy will also develop reactions to foods that cross-react with latex. Examples of foods that cross-react with latex include bananas, kiwi, avocados and European chestnuts. Less commonly, people with latex allergy can become allergic to potatoes, tomatoes and pitted fruits like peaches, plums and cherries.

For more information about latex allergy, please visit the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and the American Latex Allergy Association.

Insect Stings

Honeybees, bumblebees, yellow jackets, hornets, wasps and fire ants are the most common sources of insect stings in the U.S. Insect stings account for about 50 deaths each year nationwide.

Insect sting reactions can range from local and mild to life-threatening. The symptoms usually occur within minutes of the sting.

Local reactions can involve swelling of an area larger than the sting site (e.g., the entire arm can be swollen after a sting on the hand). This type of reaction may also include nausea and a low-grade fever. If symptoms become severe, or if they resemble those of anaphylaxis, use epinephrine and get emergency medical help immediately.

In some cases, insect sting allergy can be cured with immunotherapy (i.e., allergy shots). In this process, a doctor gradually gives stronger and stronger doses of the insect venom over a period of time.

To lower your risk of an insect sting:

  • avoid brightly colored clothing and scented cosmetics, perfumes, etc.

  • avoid walking barefoot outdoors.

  • use caution when cooking outdoors.

  • stay away from areas where stinging insects gather.

  • keep insecticide handy when working outdoors.

For more information about insect sting allergies, please visit the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.