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It’s NOT AN ALLERGY!

September 24, 2012

Any time you go into a hospital or doctors office, one of the first things you will be asked is if you have any allergies.  This is because, occasionally, people get really really sick when they get exposed to certain substances.  It’s actually not all that common in adults but it does happen, especially with antibiotics.  An allergy occurs when the body mounts an inappropriate response to something which would not normally be harmful.  The immune system is functioning normally, but thinks something is dangerous that isn’t.  When this happens, substances are triggered in the blood that cause a range of symptoms, from a mild rash to a sudden swelling of the throat leading to suffocation.  It’s this last part that causes health professionals to ask you about your allergies.

Please please please do not tell people you have an allergy to percocet because it makes you nauseous.  This is not an allergy, it is a SIDE EFFECT.  Please please please do not tell people you are allergic to epinephrine because it makes your heart race.  THIS IS A NORMAL ACTION OF THIS DRUG.  Please please please do not tell people you have an allergy to lisinopril because it makes you cough.  THIS IS A SIDE EFFECT.   Please please please do not tell people you are allergic to aspirin because it makes your stomach bleed.  Yep, SIDE EFFECT.

Many drugs have side effects, symptoms that are caused by taking the drug that are an effect of the drug but maybe an unwanted one.  Chemo makes your hair fall out.  This is because chemo attacks all cells, not just cancer cells, so it attacks the cells that make hair.  This is not an allergy to Chemo.  It is a side effect.  The immune system has nothing to do with it.  Same with many drugs that contain pain-killers like narcotics.  Percocet, Oxycodone, things like this, have narcotics in them which effect the vomiting center of the brain and can make you nauseous.   The immune system again has nothing to do with it.

Why does it matter whether you call it an allergy or a side effect?  Two reasons.  The first is that allergies can kill you but side effects generally don’t.  Secondly, saying you are allergic to something can deprive you of a potentially useful treatment.  For instance, if you say you’re allergic to epinephrine and it’s in your chart that you are allergic to epinephrine, your surgeon won’t be able to use epinephrine in his local anesthesia.  The epi causes the veins to constrict so you don’t bleed.  So now you could potentially lose more blood than you need to.  Or if you say you’re allergic to aspirin and it says in your chart that you’re allergic to aspirin, you probably won’t get aspirin if you go into the ER with a heart attack, even though it’s known to be a life-saving measure.

Try to make sure when you make a statement that will go in your chart and thus be enshrined forever, it is as accurate as you can make it.

 

 

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