15 February 2002
Over 10 per cent of reported adverse reactions to alternative or complementary medicines in Australia involve echinacea, and half of these may be allergy-related, a study has found.
Allergy specialists Dr Raymond Mullins and Dr Robert Heddle said there were an estimated 200 million doses of echinacea taken annually in Australia and atopic people (those who suffer from allergies) should be appropriately cautioned about its use.
They reported 5 cases of adverse reactions to echinacea among their patients (two with anaphylaxis, one each with acute asthma, mild asthma and [maculopapular] rash).
They also reviewed ADRAC (Adverse Drug Reactions Advisory Committee) data. Of 483 adverse reports regarding complementary or alternative medicine, 51 involved reactions to echinacea and 26 of these appeared to be allergic reactions. These included 4 reports of anaphylaxis, 12 of acute asthma attacks and 10 of urticaria/angioedema.
Most were female and over half were known to be atopic. Four were hospitalised and 4 reacted after their first exposure. The findings were published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2002;88:42-51.
Dr Mullins, from the University of Canberra, and Dr Heddle, from Adelaide's Flinders Medical Centre, said one in five allergy patients who had never taken echinacea recorded a positive test to it, and one in 20 were using it despite allergic people appearing at the highest risk of reactions.
Last Reviewed: 07 February 2002