Allergic reactions to anaesthesia are more common than previously thought

French researchers have estimated that between 1997 and 2004 there were 100 allergic reactions for every million anaesthesia procedures performed in France. Using two national databases, researchers led by Dr Paul Michel Mertes of the University Hospital Center of Nancy in France found that women appear to be at particular risk, accounting for 155 reactions per million compared with 55 per million for men.

These findings do not show an increase in the rates of allergic reaction under anaesthesia, simply that the reactions are more common than previously thought. Reactions can vary from a skin rash or hives to potentially life threatening effects on the heart and lungs. In the study, drugs called neuromuscular numbing agents were by far the most common cause of allergic reaction. Latex from equipment followed, and third most common cause of reaction was antibiotics.

As for why women suffer far more reactions than men, one explanation is that oestrogen plays a role in reactions to certain anaesthesia agents. Another is that exposure to chemicals in cosmetics prime their immune systems to react to similar chemicals in anaesthesia agents.

Source: Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology

See also Dr Harry Morrow Brown's article on Pholcodine.

First published in May 2011


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