KidsMD Health Topics

Drug Rashes

  • Overview

    Drug rashes are the body's reaction to a certain medication; they can range from mild to severe.

  • In-Depth

    Drug rashes, the body's reaction to a certain medication, can range from mild to severe. These can include:

    • Rashes caused by an allergic reaction to the medication
    • Rashes produced as an unwanted effect of a particular medication
    • Rashes due to hypersensitivity to sunlight caused by the medication
    • Drug rashes may be severe and require hospitalization. Contact your child's physician immediately.

    What are the different types of rashes caused by drugs?

    Type of Rash Symptoms Possible Cause


    pimples and red areas that appear most often on the face, shoulders and chest

    anabolic steroids, corticosteroids, bromides, iodides and phenytoin

    Exfoliative dermatitis

    red, scaly skin that may thicken and appear on the entire skin area

    antibiotics that contain sulfa, barbiturates, isoniazid, penicillins, and phenytoin

    Fixed drug eruption

    a dark red or purple rash that confines itself to the same area on the skin (usually the mouth or genitals)

    antibiotics and phenolphthalein (found in certain laxatives)


    raised red and white bumps

    aspirin, certain drug dyes and penicillins

    Morbilliform/maculopapular rash

    a flat, red rash which may include pimples similar to the measles

    antibiotics and barbiturates are the more common causative drugs; however, any drug can cause this rash

    Purpuric eruptions

    purple areas on the skin, usually on the legs

    some anticoagulants and diuretics

    Stevens-Johnson syndrome

    blisters or a hive-like rash on the lining of the mouth, vagina or penis

    antibiotics that contain sulfa, barbiturates, penicillins and other antibiotics

  • Tests

    Diagnosing a rash caused by a reaction to medication is complicated. Even a small amount of a drug can cause a major reaction. What's more, the reaction can occur after your child has taken a medication for a long time.

    Your child's physician will usually advise you to have your child stop taking any medication that isn't necessary to sustain life. Other medications may be substituted, if possible.

  • Allergic reactions can be serious and even fatal. If your child has acute symptoms in addition to the rash, such as wheezing, difficulty breathing, tightness in the throat or chest, fainting, nausea, vomiting, or other serious symptoms, call 911 or your child's physician immediately.

    Drug rashes usually clear up when your child stops taking the medication that is causing the reaction. Other treatments may include corticosteroids and antihistamines.

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