Prescription drugs, including common opioid medications, can cause a variety of side effects, even in prescribed doses. Oxycodone, more commonly known as the brand names OxyContin and Percocet, is an opioid medication used to treat moderate to severe pain. It is a highly potent and addicting drug that affects how the brain responds to pain.
Although effective, oxycodone comes with a number of side effects including:
- Loss of appetite
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Another common but unusual side effect, specifically of opioid users, is an itching sensation. There are typically two reasons for this itching — neurotransmitter stimulation, or allergic reaction.
Allergy symptoms are a reflection of how the immune system defends the body. When a person has an allergic reaction to a medication like oxycodone, the immune system produces antibodies that release chemicals into the body and immediately cause symptoms in the nose, lungs or sinuses. The medication may also influence a delayed immune response more commonly affecting the skin. This delayed response is what may cause a rash, hives or itchy sensation.
Although mild allergic reactions are common, developing a more severe allergic reaction to oxycodone is rare. Other than chronic itching, signs of a severe allergic reaction to oxycodone include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swollen face, lips, tongue or throat
Over-the-counter remedies are available to treat allergic reactions. However, if you experience any of these more rare symptoms, or you take over-the-counter drugs that do not help with the symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.
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When people consume oxycodone and other opioid drugs, the medication triggers an itch receptor in the spinal cord called the gastrin-releasing peptide receptor — also referred to as GRPR, or the itch gene. This receptor transmits itching sensations from one neuron to the next.
Researchers tested GRPR functionality in lab mice, further discovering the mice lacking significant GRPR genes scratched and itched less than other mice. With this finding, researchers confirmed a connection between GRPR and itching, and will soon be able to zone in on treating the itch without affecting the pain-killing properties of opioid medication.
Dryden, J. (2011, October 13). Researchers block morphine’s itchy side effect. Retrieved from https://source.wustl.edu/2011/10/researchers-block-morphines-itchy-side-effect/
Ericson, G. (2007, July 25). Scratch no more: Gene for itch sensation discovered. Retrieved from https://source.wustl.edu/2007/07/scratch-no-more-gene-for-itch-sensation-discovered/
Gromisch, M. (2015, September 10). Drugs That Cause Itching Skin. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/151561-drugs-that-cause-itching-skin/
Pongdee, MD, T. (n.d.). Medications and Drug Allergic Reactions. Retrieved from https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/at-a-glance/medications-and-drug-allergic-reactions