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What Are the Common Causes of an Allergic Reaction to Anesthesia?

Allergic reactions to anesthesia are rare but can be serious, often triggered by specific drugs, such as neuromuscular blocking agents, latex, or antibiotics. Genetic factors, previous exposure, and certain medical conditions may increase risk. Understanding these causes is crucial for patient safety. Have you considered how your personal health history could influence your reaction to anesthesia? Continue reading to learn more.
K.C. Bruning
K.C. Bruning

An allergic reaction to anesthesia is extremely rare. If there is a reaction, it is usually due to the preservatives that are added to the medication to prevent the deterioration of epinephrine, a common ingredient. Some patients may have an allergic reaction to latex in the gloves used by professionals administering the drug. The drugs themselves can also cause many different kinds of side effects that are mistaken for an allergy to anesthesia.

Methylparabens, sodium bisulfite, and metabisulfite are common preservatives for local anesthetics. They are the cause of many allergic reactions to anesthesia administration. Most people who experience negative effects from exposure to these ingredients are merely sensitive to them.

Alletgic reactions to anesthesia are rare.
Alletgic reactions to anesthesia are rare.

There are many symptoms which patients tend to mistake as the result of an allergic reaction to anesthesia. Some common side effects include hyperventilation, anxiety, and fast heartbeat. These are usually a reaction to the adrenaline in the epinephrine, a common ingredient in anesthesia.

Though epinephrine causes many of the side effects of anesthesia, it continues to be an important part of the drugs, because it makes them last long enough to be effective. Other patients may get contact dermatitis at the site of the injection, which causes itching and a rash that are similar to allergy symptoms. This is a mild condition that can be treated with medicated cream.

Because of latex allergies, many hospitals have stopped using latex gloves and replaced them with ones made of other materials.
Because of latex allergies, many hospitals have stopped using latex gloves and replaced them with ones made of other materials.

Some of the symptoms of a real allergic reaction to anesthesia include anaphylaxis, hives, itching, and swelling. If a patient does have an allergic reaction to anesthesia during surgery or a procedure, immediate action must be taken. Most medical professionals will have an epinephrine injection on hand to use as a life-saving measure.

Once the patient has been stabilized, then other drugs such as antihistamines and corticosteroids may be used to treat the allergy. Most doctors will conduct a follow-up test to confirm the allergy once the patient has had time to recover from the first attack. One of the most common tests is to inject the patient with anesthesia that doesn’t have preservatives or epinephrine and without the use of latex gloves. It is important to determine specifically what caused the reaction so that patients will not avoid one thing unnecessarily while risking another dangerous reaction with the true culprit.

There are many symptoms which patients tend to mistake for an allergic reaction to anesthesia.
There are many symptoms which patients tend to mistake for an allergic reaction to anesthesia.

There are four primary drugs used for anesthesia: lidocaine, mepivacaine, prilocaine, and articaine bupivacaine. In the rare case where a patient has an allergic reaction to one of these drugs, there may be another drug that will not cause problems. A doctor can perform a skin test with the other drugs in order to determine if there is one that would be safe for that patient.

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Discussion Comments

anon1001485

My son always throws up as soon as he wakes up from anesthesia. He has done this with every surgery that he has had since he was 5 years old. He is now 45 years old.

anon995286

Your article is only talking about regional anesthesia (nerve blocks) and not general anesthesia (where you're asleep). Anaphylaxis during regional anesthesia is very rare. Anaphylaxis during general anesthesia is more common.

The drugs you mention above are all amide local anesthetics, not general anesthetic agents.

anon994812

My mother developed hives a week after surgery five years ago and has had severe bouts since then. She has no known allergies and has lived in the same house for 40-plus years, so environmental causes are out. I believe there is a serious problem with the anesthesia and the medical field is either in denial or cover up mode.

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    • Alletgic reactions to anesthesia are rare.
      By: reflektastudios
      Alletgic reactions to anesthesia are rare.
    • Because of latex allergies, many hospitals have stopped using latex gloves and replaced them with ones made of other materials.
      By: Photographee.eu
      Because of latex allergies, many hospitals have stopped using latex gloves and replaced them with ones made of other materials.
    • There are many symptoms which patients tend to mistake for an allergic reaction to anesthesia.
      By: evok20
      There are many symptoms which patients tend to mistake for an allergic reaction to anesthesia.
    • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may be necessary if the person experiencing anaphylaxis is unresponsive and not breathing.
      By: Photographee.eu
      Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may be necessary if the person experiencing anaphylaxis is unresponsive and not breathing.
    • Bupivacaine, which is a type of anesthesia, can be administered during the process of labor and delivery.
      By: Tyler Olson
      Bupivacaine, which is a type of anesthesia, can be administered during the process of labor and delivery.