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What Are the Signs of an Allergic Reaction to Aspirin?

By Rebecca Mecomber
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An allergic reaction to aspirin largely depends on the sensitivity of the individual. Mild signs of an allergic reaction to aspirin may include a localized or wide-spread skin rash, sinus congestion, hives, or swelling in the face, hands and feet. A more severe allergic reaction to aspirin might include wheezing, a sudden drop in blood pressure, changes in skin color, unconsciousness, organ failure, anaphylaxis and death.

Recognizing an allergic reaction to aspirin may prove difficult. Unlike other allergies that can be examined for allergy antibodies in a laboratory, patients do not produce antibodies for an allergic reaction to aspirin. Generally, an individual does not know he or she is allergic to aspirin until experiencing a reaction from taking the drug.

Treating an allergic reaction to aspirin usually requires immediate medical intervention. A physician may administer an injection of epinephrine or an antihistamine to reduce swelling. Oxygen therapy may be needed for patients with respiratory distress.

The best recourse for avoiding an allergic reaction to aspirin is prevention. Salicylate is a common ingredient in many foods and herbs, including strawberries, avocados, mushrooms, radishes, mint, spearmint and nuts. Prescription and over-the-counter products contain salicylates as well, including muscle pain relief creams, sunscreen, ibuprofen and naproxen. Acetaminophen contains no salicylates and is often the pain-reliving drug of choice for allergic sufferers.

Aspirin is derived from the bark of the willow tree. The ancient Greeks and Native Americans discovered that chewing on willow tree twigs helped reduce pain and inflammation. Willow contains salicin, from which acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin, is derived. Some individuals are allergic to the salicin in aspirin.

Felix Hoffman, a German chemist working for Friedrich Bayer and Company, originally developed the precursor to aspirin — salicylic acid. The acid proved too painful for the human digestive tract, causing extreme pain, swelling and bleeding. Hoffman developed a method to neutralize the acid, calling his new chemical acetylsalicylic acid. In 1899, the Bayer company developed the chemical into a pill and named it aspirin.

While the acid in aspirin is greatly neutralized from causing adverse effects, patients with sensitive digestive tracts may still experience discomfort. Common discomforts include bruising, digestive tract pain, and stomach bleeding. These symptoms, however, are common side effects and are not considered an allergy to the drug.

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