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Anesth Analg. 1998 Sep;87(3):681-5.

Oral antihistamines reduce the side effects from rapid vancomycin infusion.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesia and Critical Care, The University of Chicago, Illinois, USA.


Rapid infusion of vancomycin causes histamine-mediated side effects, hypotension, and rash, known as "red man syndrome." In this prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, we examined the ability of oral antihistamines to attenuate three clinical end points: rash, hypotension, and vancomycin discontinuation, and we compared these findings with those of a similar study using IV antihistamines. Patients (ASA physical status I-III) who required vancomycin prophylaxis for elective arthroplasty received either oral antihistamines (diphenhydramine < or = 1 mg/kg and cimetidine < or = 4 mg/kg, n = 20) or placebo (n = 10) 1 h before rapid vancomycin infusion (1 g over 10 min). The vancomycin infusion was discontinued if the mean arterial blood pressure decreased by > or = 20% or if itching was intolerable for the patient. Clinically significant hypotension developed in no treated patients, compared with five (50%) patients in the placebo group (P = 0.001). Rapid infusion was stopped for one treated patient (5%) and for five (50%) patients in the placebo group (P = 0.004). Incidence (P = 0.011) and severity of rash (P = 0.015) were also reduced in treated patients. Peak histamine levels were increased but were similar for patients in both groups (mean +/- SD, 1.9+/-2.5 vs 1.6+/-2.4 ng/mL; P = 0.75). Oral antihistamines were as effective as IV antihistamines. In conclusion, oral H1 and H2 antihistamine pretreatment is a practical, safe, and inexpensive option to attenuate histamine-mediated side effects associated with rapid vancomycin infusion.


Clinicians often must administer vancomycin faster than the 1-h recommended time, which can cause "red man syndrome" (rash, itching, hypotension). Our randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that oral H1 and H2 antihistamine pretreatment significantly reduced the histamine-related side effects of rapid vancomycin infusion.

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