I had an allergic reaction to contrast dye but lived to share my experience.
MRI for Sciatica and Low Back Pain
I've had low back pain for years. Last year, I began having new pain that was associated with the aches and pains in my lumbar spine. The pain began in my lower back and shot down my buttock and into my leg. At times, I was practically paralyzed.
I had to find out what was going on, so I made an appointment to see my primary care physician. He referred me to an orthopedist who specializes in spines. The orthopedist scheduled me for an MRI of my lower back, explaining that contrast dye would be used. I'd been injected with a contrast dye before and had never had any problems, so I wasn't worried at all.
Allergic Reaction to Dye
I've never been a big fan of MRIs or of CT scans—when my entire body was enclosed. This time, however, it would be a piece of cake because my head and shoulders were going to be outside the “tunnel.” I was completely relaxed. The attendant with me was very nice, and I felt no fear or apprehension about having the procedure.
Once the dye was injected, the imaging began. The health care worker remained right beside me and instructed me to let him know if I had any problems.
Everything was fine—until it wasn't. Suddenly, my face felt very hot and began to itch. I ran my hands over my skin and felt welts on my face and neck. The attendant was looking in the other direction at the time, so I got his attention and told him I was itching. He turned to look at me, and his jaw dropped. He immediately called for help. Within seconds, the room was filled with doctors and nurses. I can't remember what all they did, but I do remember they kept asking me if I could breathe. I answered that I could breathe just fine and that they needed to hurry up because I wanted to go to Walmart.
What Really Happened
I didn't find out the whole story until later. My husband had driven me to the hospital but had remained in the car to read. I remember them asking if I had anyone with me, and I told them my husband was in the parking lot. I found out that a nurse had rushed to the parking lot and found my husband. They told him to come in immediately because I had stopped breathing. I had stopped breathing!
This came as a shock to me. I have no memory of having any breathing difficulties at all. I remembered how they kept asking me if I could breathe, but I didn't remember having any trouble breathing. Wow. Did I have a near-death experience? If I did, it was disappointing. I didn't see a bright light, Elvis, or Jesus.
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After the Allergic Reaction
It didn't take too long for the hot feeling to go away and for the itching and welts to subside. I began to feel fine, perfectly normal. In fact, I told hubby I was ready to go to Walmart. One of the doctors heard me and said I didn't need to go shopping for a day or two. He said I needed to go home and rest. He also told me to drink lots of water for the next 48 hours to help flush the dye out of my body.
Inform Your Doctor About All of Your Allergies
Severe reactions to contrast dye are rare, but you need to inform your doctor about any allergies you might have. If you've had allergic reactions to certain foods, medications, pets, or anything else, make sure your doctor knows. He or she also needs to know about any health problems you have. If you've ever had adverse reactions to any type of contrast, your physician definitely needs to know.
Does This Mean I Can Never Have Contrast Again?
The answer largely depends on your doctor. Mine told me to never, ever have contrast again. The thing is, though, that contrast dye can be tricky. For one thing, there are different types of dyes, and you might be allergic to one type but be perfectly fine with another. Also, it could be that you did fine with a particular type of contrast dye in the past but have an adverse reaction with a later procedure.
I'm not happy about not being able to have contrast again. My pain doctor uses it when she administers my epidural injections because it allows her to get the medication in just the right spot near my spine. As I understand it, a different type of dye is used in an epidural procedure, so it would probably be safe for me to have it again. My primary care doctor, however, said it's not worth chancing it.
Afraid to Have Contrast Dye?
If you need to have a procedure performed with contrast dye, don't be afraid. Severe reactions are rare, and you'll be monitored closely the entire time. Believe me: That procedure room was crowded with doctors and nurses in just a few seconds after the attendant made the call!
As I already mentioned, be sure to report any allergies and/or medical conditions to your doctor, and don't be afraid to ask questions. If at any time during the procedure you experience any side effects or feel uncomfortable for any reason, don't be shy about informing the health care personnel who's with you.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Abby Slutsky from America on August 26, 2020:
I have always been a little concerned about having dye contrast because someone in my family had complications from it. This was an informative article.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 26, 2020:
Wow that is interesting. Glad all is well. Now I will be nervous my next CT. Not.