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What Are the Signs of an Allergic Reaction to Iodine?

By Meshell Powell
Updated Jan 25, 2024
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An allergic reaction to iodine is a relatively rare occurrence, although it can be potentially life threatening in the most severe cases. Possible signs of this allergy include skin reactions, difficulty breathing, and joint pain. The most severe type of allergic reaction is known as anaphylaxis, which can be fatal within a matter of minutes without emergency medical attention. Some medications, particularly contrast dyes used for some medical tests, contain iodine and can cause symptoms in those with a true allergy to iodine. Any specific questions or concerns about a possible iodine allergy in an individual situation should be discussed with a doctor or other medical professional.

In most cases, an iodine sensitivity causes mild symptoms, like a mild fever, stomach upset, and itching, that do not present any major medical concerns. Iodine is found in varying amounts in shellfish, although there is some scientific debate over whether an allergic reaction to shellfish is due to the iodine content.

Signs of an allergic reaction that require immediate medical attention include respiratory distress, chest pain, and facial swelling. A severe and potentially fatal type of allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis is a serious medical complication that can cause death within a matter of minutes. The face, tongue, and throat may begin to swell, causing difficulty when breathing or swallowing. A lack of oxygen to the brain can lead to permanent brain damage or even death if emergency medical services are not secured.

An anaphylactic allergic reaction to iodine may cause asthma-type symptoms, rapid heartbeat, or dizziness. The skin may appear to be flushed, and the patient may partially or completely lose consciousness. If any of these symptoms occur, a caregiver should not attempt to drive the patient to the hospital. Instead, an ambulance should be called so that emergency life-saving techniques can begin right away.

When a person with a suspected iodine allergy arrives at the hospital, the primary focus is to stabilize him or her by providing any necessary supportive care, such as oxygen therapy or the use of a mechanical ventilator. An IV may be inserted into a vein so that any necessary medications or fluids can be introduced directly into the bloodstream. After the patient's health has stabilized, an injectible medication known as epinephrine is usually prescribed and should be carried by the patient at all times in the event of a recurrence.

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