What Are the Signs of an Allergic Reaction to Sulfa?

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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 February 2020
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An allergic reaction to sulfa is not a particularly common occurrence, although it can be potentially fatal in the most severe cases. Skin reactions are the most commonly reported symptoms of this kind of reaction. Additional symptoms of a reaction may include respiratory distress, blood cell changes, or damage to the liver and kidneys. A potentially fatal type of allergic reaction to sulfa, known as Stevens Johnson Syndrome, requires immediate medical attention in order to save the life of the patient. Any questions or concerns about potential signs of a sulfa reaction should be discussed with a doctor or other medical professional.

The majority of people who experience this reaction only develop a skin reaction to the medication. These reactions may include a local or widespread rash or hives. Some people may notice an increased sensitivity to sunlight while using this medication. These symptoms are usually mild, but if the medication is not discontinued at the first signs of a skin reaction, more serious complications may develop.

Respiratory distress is another possible sign of a reaction to sulfa. These symptoms may mimic those of pneumonia, and those with underlying respiratory illnesses such as asthma, may notice an increase in symptoms. If the medication continues to be taken after these symptoms begin to develop, potentially life-threatening respiratory issues may occur.


Blood tests may reveal changes to the various types of blood cells among those suffering from an allergic reaction to sulfa. The numbers of red cells, white cells, and platelets may be significantly reduced, leaving the patient vulnerable to immune system damage and severe illness from even the most minor infections. Damage to the liver or kidneys may also occur as a result of an allergy to sulfa drugs. In the most severe cases, organ transplant may become necessary in order to preserve the life of the patient.

Stevens Johnson Syndrome is a potentially fatal type of sulfa reaction. Flu-like symptoms are often the first symptom of this condition, followed by the appearance of blisters and a painful rash. This rash eventually causes the top layer of skin to die and fall off of the body. Additional symptoms may include fever, sore throat, or facial swelling. Any of these symptoms should be treated as a medical emergency, as death may occur within a matter of minutes if the symptoms become severe.


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