It’s one of the first questions any patient is asked at a doctor’s office visit.

“Are you allergic to any medications?”

When a drug enters our bodies, in some cases our immune system reacts as if the drug is a threat and produces chemicals to fight the given threat. This reaction can result in a person breaking out in hives, developing a rash, spiking a fever or going into anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition that can result in death.

Every year in the United States, more than 3 million people develop allergic reactions after taking certain medications. Because of allergy prevalence and severity, clinicians and researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital are rigorously conducting research to find ways to reduce allergic reactions and better understand allergies to drugs ranging from aspirin to chemotherapy.

At Discover Brigham, doctors Mariana Castells, MD, PhD, Tanya Laidlaw, MD, and Paige Wickner, MD, MPH, will discuss their work to make sure that patients are given the opportunity to safely receive much-needed medications without causing severe allergic reactions.

Castells’s research focuses mainly on cancer drugs and adverse reactions. She hopes to desensitize patients to medications that cause dizziness and fainting, and try to put patients back on the medications to fight their cancer. She is also doing this with other illnesses including cystic fibrosis.

Laidlaw’s research focuses mainly on understanding Aspirin Exacerbated Respiratory Disease (AERD), exploring treatments and desensitization options. She is extremely passionate about making a difference.

“Up until now, our only advice to patients with drug allergies has been to avoid the drugs they are allergic to,” said Laidlaw. “We are now pushing the field forward and making real progress to help treat these patients, and allow them to safely take medications that they previously thought were too dangerous to try.”

Lastly, Wickner’s particular interest is in electronic health records and listed drug allergies, and their impact on patient care. “With universally mandated electronic health records, listed drug allergies can impact the quality, safety and cost of patient prescriptions,” said Wickner. “We assess different methods to clarify these listed drug allergies in order to safely prescribe medications, especially antibiotics, for the optimal care of the patient.”

The work of all three researchers and their colleagues in BWH’s Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy is now allowing patients with infections to take penicillin, to take life-saving chemotherapies, and to take anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin and ibuprofen when previous they could not.

To find out more please join us at Discover Brigham on October 7th for a day full of discovery, innovation and science.

Sign up here!