An anesthesia allergy occurs when a person experiences an allergic reaction if they receive certain anesthetic medications. Sometimes, these reactions can be severe.

Anesthesia is a group of medications that help prevent people from feeling pain during or after surgery.

Sometimes, a person can have an allergic reaction to anesthesia medications. If they experience anaphylaxis due to anesthesia, it can be very severe.

However, medical institutions can deal with these situations quickly and efficiently as they have relevant anaphylaxis treatment to hand.

Anaphylaxis due to anesthesia is rare.

This article discusses anesthesia allergy and its symptoms, triggers, and side effects.

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Identifying the exact cause of an allergic reaction is complicated, and linking it to anesthesia is challenging. A person is more likely to experience an allergic reaction to other factors or medications, such as antibiotics, muscle relaxants, or latex, than anesthesia.

If a medical professional administers anesthetic medications to a person who is allergic to them, they may develop anaphylaxis. However, this is rare. Anaphylaxis during anesthesia occurs in 1 out of every 20,000 people.

Anaphylaxis is an acute and severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening.

Anaphylaxis occurs when the body releases too many chemicals, causing the person to go into shock.

Early symptoms of anaphylaxis can be mild and can include:

These symptoms can become severe and may include:

Learn more about anaphylaxis.

A person may have an allergic reaction to anesthetic medication and other drugs during anesthetic treatment.

The most common trigger of an anesthetic allergy is muscle relaxants. Medical professionals refer to these medications as neuromuscular blocking agents (NMBAs).

Other common triggers of allergic reactions during anesthetic treatment include:

Learn everything about allergies.

Anesthesia can also cause side effects. Some of these side effects can be mild, while others can be more serious.

Mild side effects

Mild side effects of general anesthetic include:

Some of these symptoms can also be due to an allergic reaction. This is another reason why doctors find diagnosing a reaction to anesthesia challenging.

Serious side effects

Sometimes, a person may experience more serious side effects after general anesthesia. These side effects include:

  • postoperative delirium that lasts for longer than a few hours or days
  • postoperative cognitive dysfunction, which can result in long-term memory and learning problems

Learn more about the side effects of general anesthesia.

There are some reactions to anesthesia that are not due to allergies.

Pseudocholinesterase deficiency

Pseudocholinesterase deficiency is a condition that causes a defect in the production of the pseudocholinesterase enzyme.

This enzyme metabolizes several anesthetic medications, such as the muscle relaxants succinylcholine and mivacurium.

If a person has a pseudocholinesterase deficiency, it can prevent their body from effectively metabolizing these muscle relaxants. This can cause a person to develop prolonged muscular paralysis from standard doses of these medications.

Malignant hyperthermia

Malignant hyperthermia (MH) is the body’s reaction to certain substances. Certain anesthetics can trigger MH.

MH is rare and occurs in approximately 1 in every 100,000 adults.

MH causes symptoms such as:

Learn about treatment options for malignant hyperthermia.

The most important step a person can take to reduce their risk of a reaction to anesthetic medications is to talk with the anesthesiologist about their medication, health history, and lifestyle.

This can help them to determine how the person may react to anesthesia. They may also use this information to take steps to lower the person’s risk of side effects.

Learn about anesthesiologists and what they do.

The following are some questions people frequently ask about anesthesia allergy.

How do you test if you are allergic to anesthesia?

A medical professional may use a skin prick test to help diagnose anaphylactic reactions to certain medications.

During this test, a doctor may place a certain medication on a person’s skin. They will then make a small prick in the middle of the sample. This allows the liquid to penetrate the outer layer of the skin.

If a person has an allergic response to the medication, they may experience swelling, and their skin may change color.

Learn more about allergy testing.

What are the most common anesthesia allergies?

The most common trigger of an allergic reaction to anesthetics is muscle relaxants. Other common triggers of allergic reactions during anesthetic treatment include:

  • latex
  • antibiotics
  • hypnotic agents
  • opioids
  • colloids
  • dyes
  • antiseptics (chlorhexidine)

Learn more about muscle relaxers.

Anesthesia is the term for a group of medications that help prevent people from feeling pain during or after surgery.

Rarely, a person may have an allergic reaction to anesthesia medications. This can cause them to experience anaphylaxis, which is a very serious reaction.

Common early symptoms of an allergic reaction to anesthesia include a runny nose, a skin rash, and feeling strange.

These symptoms can develop into more severe symptoms, which include hives or swelling, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, and a feeling of impending doom, among others.

Medical institutions will typically have relevant treatment for anaphylaxis available to hand. This means they can treat anaphylaxis immediately and effectively.

A person should speak with their anesthesiologist about their medical history, medications, and lifestyle to help prevent allergic reactions.