January 5, 2022
Can you claim compensation if you become ill because of an allergic reaction to drugs that have been prescribed for you by a doctor? Should a doctor know if you are allergic to a specific type of drug? Our allergic reaction to medication claims guide answers both these questions and more.
It’s hard to imagine the sheer volume of drugs prescribed to patients every year in the UK. The Health Survey for England report of 2016 revealed that the number of prescribed medications dispensed in 2016 was over 1,104 million.
Surgeons, doctors, and nurses administer drugs to patients daily to treat illness and disease. Drugs are also administered during medical interventions such as injections, intravenously and during operations.
Some people suffer side effects from the drugs prescribed to them. Side effects are known conditions that may affect some users who take a specific type of drug. You will have read the warnings about and seen the descriptions of the possible side effects of some medicines in the leaflets provided with ‘over the counter’ prescriptions.
In hospitals or at the GPs surgery, if health professionals are going to administer drugs that have side effects, they will warn you what these might be before they administer them.
In other words, you will know before you take a drug that you may suffer some side effects – for instance, drowsiness or feelings of nausea.
When the drug was licensed for use, the side effects will have been considered. The license will have been granted because the benefits of taking the drug far outweigh the possibility of the side effects some patients may get after taking it.
Adverse or allergic reactions to drugs are a different matter altogether. If you are allergic to one or more of the components that make up a particular type of drug, and you take that drug, you will probably suffer an adverse allergic reaction. Some allergic reactions can be mild, with symptoms such as:
- Mild skin rash
- Runny nose
- Itchy eyes
More adverse allergic reactions to drugs include:
- Shortness of breath
What is anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a severe and life-threatening condition. It is caused by an allergic reaction to allergens and can result in widespread dysfunction all over the body. If someone has a drug allergy, their immune system mistakenly believes that the drug that is entering their body is a dangerous substance, like a virus or parasite, that needs to be fought.
Symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction to a drug include:
- Severe breathing difficulties
- Body swelling
- An irregular heartbeat
- Lapsing into unconsciousness.
- Tightening of the airways
- A drop in blood pressure
- Sickness and diarrhoea
Whereas drug side effects can affect anyone and rarely affect the immune system, drug allergies only affect certain people and always involve the immune system.
Anaphylaxis is a serious condition requiring emergency treatment.
Are there any other types of adverse reactions caused by drug allergies?
Some less common adverse allergic reactions to drugs include:
- Drug-induced anaemia
- Nephritis (kidney inflammation)
- Drug rash with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms (DRESS), also known as drug-induced hypersensitivity syndrome (DIHS) – causes fever, skin rash all over the body, swollen lymph nodes and in severe cases, inflammation of the internal organs. It can cause death.
How do you treat allergic drug reactions?
Treatment of drug allergies will vary depending on the nature of the reaction. If your reaction to a particular drug is mild, the benefits of continuing to use the drug may outweigh the inconvenience of mild reaction symptoms. In addition, your medical advisor may decide to use medication designed to stop your immune system from adversely reacting to the drug.
Medication can also reduce the symptoms of an adverse reaction. This type of medication includes:
If a particular drug causes a more severe allergic reaction, an alternative medication will be needed to continue treating the ailment.
If a doctor prescribes me a drug that causes an adverse allergic reaction, can I make a drug allergy compensation claim?
You would need to make a medical negligence claim for drug allergy compensation. . These claims are rarely straightforward and almost always require legal advice from an experienced firm of medical negligence solicitors.
If you suffer an adverse reaction to medication that a doctor has prescribed for you, it doesn’t necessarily mean the doctor has been negligent.
To succeed in an allergic reaction to drugs claim, you will need to show there was a prior ‘known’ risk that you would have an adverse reaction to the drug. Examples of a ‘known risk’ being present in an allergic reaction case include cases where you have been prescribed:
- Medicine that reacts with other medication already prescribed to you.
- Medication that you have been receiving for a long time (and which should have been reviewed).
- A type of medicine you are known to be allergic to.
- Multiple types of medication that are known to react when taken together.
- The wrong dosage of medication
You will notice how many times the word ‘known’ crops up. The medical professional who provided you with the medication to which you have suffered an adverse reaction must have ‘known’ or ‘ought to have known’ you would suffer an allergic reaction to the prescribed medication if a compensation claim is to have a chance of success.
The doctor prescribing the medication may not have been able to anticipate, that you were likely to suffer an allergic reaction to the drug. In that case, there is unlikely to be negligence on their part, and a compensation claim would be likely to fail.
When might a claim for compensation due to allergic reactions to a drug succeed?
- You have already told the doctor or another doctor that you were allergic to a particular drug, such as penicillin.
- If the doctor prescribing the drug fails to check your medical records to see if there is a note about your being allergic to the medicine in question.
- If a doctor fails to ask you if you are known to have an allergy to a drug before prescribing it to you.
- The doctor fails to consider the likelihood that the drug prescribed will cause an adverse allergic reaction when it mixes with the medication you are already taking.
Are there any actions you took, which may affect your entitlement to compensation?
- You failed to stop taking your medication once it started to cause an adverse allergic reaction.
- You failed to contact your doctor or the emergency services immediately after getting adverse allergic reaction symptoms.
- You failed to take the correct amount of medication, left insufficient intervals between doses or took too many or too few daily doses.
If any of these factors are present, they could mean your compensation claim fails. Alternatively, you may receive reduced compensation because your actions have contributed to the adverse reaction you experienced.
How long do I have to make an adverse reaction to a drug allergy compensation claim?
You must bring a claim within three years from when you first suffered an adverse reaction to the medication. Alternatively, you have three years from the date you became aware that the severe reaction you suffered was caused by being provided with a drug to which that your doctor ought to have known you were allergic.
How do I make an adverse reaction to medication claim?
The first step is to contact a firm of solicitors who have expertise in medical negligence claims. Better still, if those solicitors have experience in ‘adverse reaction to treatment’ claims, as well. Fortunately, at Spencers Solicitors we have both!
Our experienced medical negligence team will be pleased to provide you with initial, no-obligation advice on making a claim.
Call Spencers Solicitors now on 08000 93 00 94 to arrange an obligation free telephone consultation with one of our medical negligence experts.
We will listen to what has happened to you, how you came to be prescribed medication that caused you to suffer an adverse reaction to it and advise you whether we think you have reasonable prospects of success.
If we think you have a claim, it will be entirely your decision as to whether you ask us to take on your claim. We hope you will, but we won’t put any pressure on you.
Can I make a No Win No Fee adverse reaction to medication claim?
We handle most medical negligence claims for our clients on No Win No Fee basis. If we believe your claim has reasonable prospects of success and you ask us to deal with the claim for you, we will, in most cases, be able to offer to offer to take on your claim using a No Win No Fee agreement.
About the Author
Helen is a Chartered Legal Executive within our Serious Injury Team.
Helen, who joined the business in 2000, was admitted as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives in 2006. She has extensive experience of dealing with personal injury claims having worked within the claimant personal injury field for over fifteen years. Helen is a specialist in complex and serious injuries including head, brain and spinal cord injuries. Helen works closely with clients at each stage of the claim to provide the support and advice they need every step of the way.