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Chlorhexidine is a chemical antiseptic that has been known to cause allergic reactions. Although reactions are uncommon, some of them have been severe.
Chlorhexidine has numerous medical and dental uses, most notably skin decontamination. Chlorhexidine is found in preparations that are designed to provide antiseptic and antimicrobial effect with rapid bactericidal action or in multi-use preparations which are at risk of being contaminated with bacteria. It would be very difficult to provide a comprehensive list of all preparations that contain chlorhexidine and one medical reference resource, Martindale: The Complete Drug Reference, lists over 1000 entries with reference to chlorhexidine. However in general antiseptic/antimicrobial products and multi-use topical products may contain chlorhexidine as a preservative or active ingredient. There could be many over-the-counter products that contain chlorhexidine e.g. Boots athlete's foot powder, Vicks Sinex. Some dressings may contain chlorhexidine. There may be household products not included in our list that could also contain chlorhexidine such as detergent and disinfectant solutions.
Products containing chlorhexidine include certain antiseptic mouthwashes designed to reduce dental plaque and oral bacteria, antiseptic sore throat lozenges and sprays, antiseptic toothpastes, topical eczema creams, acne creams, antiseptic creams and wipes, eye drops and contact lens solutions. Chlorhexidine is a also component in some medical devices, such as urinary catheters, central venous catheters and dental implants. This is just a very small list of the products containing this chemical.
Anyone who knows they are allergic to chlorhexidine must read the labels of any pharmaceutical products, particularly those that have antiseptic properties.
Examples of products containing chlorhexidine:
(All brand names are just as examples of where they can be found. Ingredients may change and similar products are also likely to contain chlorhexidine so ALWAYS check the label.)
Allergy to Chlorhexidine must also be declared by anyone going into hospital or having dental treatment.
There is some evidence of an increasing number of cases of allergy to chlorhexidine, possibly due to its use in some brands of mouthwash. It is thought that the true incidence of anaphylaxis to chlorhexidine is likely to be underestimated and also that it may be overlooked as the cause of anaphylaxis during surgery where it may also be used.
If you believe you may be allergic to chlorhexidine, ask your doctor to refer you for allergy testing. Whilst it’s possible that chlorhexidine may have been responsible for your reaction, it may have been another of the ingredients of a mouthwash.