Have you ever been told you’re allergic to penicillin – and then spent years avoiding penicillin and warning your doctor not to use it when treating an infection? Many people think they’re penicillin-allergic, but recent studies show that a large majority of those who have been told they’re allergic to penicillin are not.
Over the last couple of years the doctors at Coastal Allergy Care have made an effort to educate the community and local physicians about “penicillin allergy” and “drug allergy” in general. At the most recent ACAAI annual meeting in San Francisco this was a “hot topic”. The focus has been primarily on antibiotics due to increasing resistance, cost, and complications that arise from choosing from limited antibiotics when patients are labeled “allergic”. We have seen this issue not only with Penicillin but also with other antibiotics, chemotherapy medications, and various other classes of medications.
Of all the drug allergies, penicillin allergy is the most common. Many people are labeled allergic after a rash with ingestion even if it has not been clinically established. Allergic symptoms vary from a mild skin rash to a severe chain reaction within the body called anaphylaxis, which can be fatal.
Doctors tend to err on the side of caution and note it on your medical record. Even when the initial allergic response is minor, subsequent exposure to the antibiotic can trigger a severe life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. If your doctor is unable to prescribe penicillin for you, it restricts your medication choices. Less effective or more expensive antibiotics may be needed to deal with common infections.
Penicillin allergies can be tricky to confirm, as some adverse reactions to penicillin can be confused for an allergic reaction. Additionally, many people with a history of allergic reactions to this medication frequently experience a decrease in their sensitivity over time.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) has developed a recommended protocol that can help these patients. As board certified Allergists/Immunologists, we have a simple skin testing protocol that can be completed in our office to confirm if a patient has a true penicillin allergy. After a careful review of the medical history, we will perform a skin testing and, if negative, administer an oral challenge using amoxicillin or the appropriate medication in question. We observe the patient to guarantee that it is safe for them to take this medication. We know that over 90% of people who report they have an allergy to penicillin will test negative.
This testing procedure can help prevent non-allergic patients from being prescribed an alternative antibiotic that may be less effective, have more severe side effects or be more expensive. We can put patients at ease so they can know, which medications are safe for them to take.
Over the years, Coastal Allergy Care has seen patients reporting many types of medication allergies.
If you think you have a medication allergy, consider seeing one of our board certified Allergist/Immunologists for evaluation.