To estimate the prevalence of self-reported drug allergy in adults. Cross-sectional survey of a general adult population from Porto (all of whom were living with children involved in the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood-phase three), during the year 2002, using a self-administered questionnaire. The prevalence of self-reported drug allergy was 7.8% (181/2309): 4.5% to penicillins or other beta-lactams, 1.9% to aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and 1.5% to other drugs. In the group 'allergic to beta-lactams', the most frequently implicated drug was penicillin G or V (76.2%) followed by the association of amoxicillin and clavulanic acids (14.3%). In the group 'allergic to NSAIDs', acetylsalicylic acid (18.2%) and ibuprofen (18.2%) were the most frequently identified drugs, followed by nimesulide and meloxicam. Identification of the exact name of the involved drug was possible in less than one-third of the patients, more often within the NSAID group (59.5%). Women were significantly more likely to claim a drug allergy than men (10.2% vs. 5.3%). The most common manifestations were cutaneous (63.5%), followed by cardiovascular symptoms (35.9%). Most of the reactions were immediate, occurring on the first day of treatment (78.5%). Only half of the patients were submitted to drug allergy investigations. The majority (86.8%) completely avoided the suspected culprit drug thereafter. The results showed that self-reported allergy to drugs is highly prevalent and poorly explored. Women seem to be more susceptible. beta-lactams and NSAIDs are the most frequently concerned drugs.