Drug Rashes

What are drug rashes?

Drug rashes are the body's reaction to a certain medicine. The type of rash that happens depends on the drug causing it and a person's response. Drugs have been associated with every type of rash, ranging from mild to life-threatening. The onset of the rash can also vary from immediate to weeks after the drug was first taken.

Rashes caused by drugs can be categorized in the following groups:

  • Rashes caused by an allergic reaction to the medicine

  • Rashes produced as an unwanted effect of a particular medicine

  • Rashes due to hypersensitivity to sunlight caused by the medicine

What are the different types of rashes caused by drugs?

Type of rash




Exfoliative dermatitis

Fixed drug eruption


Morbilliform or maculopapular rash

Purpuric eruptions

Stevens-Johnson syndrome

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

Anabolic steroids, corticosteroids, bromides, iodides, and phenytoin

Red, scaly skin that may thicken and peel and involve the entire body

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

A dark red or purple rash that reacts at the same site

Antibiotics and phenolphthalein (found in certain laxatives)

Raised red bumps

Aspirin, certain drug dyes, penicillins, and many other drugs

A flat, red rash that may include pimples similar to the measles

Antibiotics, antihypertensives, and contrast dye are among more common causative drugs; however, any drug can cause this rash

Purple areas on the skin, often on the legs

Some anticoagulants and diuretics

Blisters or a hive-like rash on the lining of the mouth, vagina, or penis that can spread all over the body

Antibiotics that contain sulfa, barbiturates, penicillins, and certain drugs used for seizures and diabetes

How are drug rashes diagnosed?

Diagnosing a rash caused by a reaction to medcine is complicated. Even a small amount of a drug can cause a major reaction in the skin. In addition, the reaction can occur even after the patient has taken a medicine for a long time. Your health care provider will usually advise you to stop taking any medicine that is not necessary to sustain your life, to see if the reaction lessens. Other medicines may be substituted, if possible.

Treatment for drug rashes

The condition usually clears up if the patient stops taking the medicine that is causing the reaction. Other treatment may include:

  • Corticosteroids

  • Antihistamines

Allergic reactions can be serious and even fatal. If a rash develops, it is important to immediately contact your health care provider.