Penicillin Allergy? Check Again.

By: Kelly M. Hersh, NP

Penicillin Allergy Double Check

penicillinAre you an adult who has been told to avoid penicillin due to an allergic reaction in childhood?

Are you unclear if your child should avoid penicillin because he or she developed a rash the last time they took it?

Do you have multiple antibiotic allergies and your doctor is worried what antibiotic you safely can use the next time you get an infection?

If you have answered yes to any of these questions it may be time to see an allergist.

Penicillin Allergy, maybe not?

Penicillin allergy is a seemingly common occurrence. According to the CDC, approximately 10% of people in the United States report penicillin allergy.  What is interesting is that only 1% of the population is actually allergic upon evaluation.  That means 9 out of 10 people who think they are allergic to penicillin actually are not.

Updates in research

penicillin formulaWhy is there this discrepancy?  One reason is that having an infection, such as a cold or cough, can be a common trigger for developing hives.  If you developed hives while taking penicillin for an illness it can be hard to determine whether the trigger is due to an allergy to penicillin or due to the illness itself.  Another reason is that people often mistake side effects of amoxicillin, such as nausea or diarrhea  for symptoms of an allergic reaction.  Finally, 80% of patients with true penicillin allergy lose their sensitivity after 10 years.  If an adult was told to always avoid penicillin due to a reaction in childhood, it is likely the allergy is no longer present.

No big deal, right?

mold and penicillinWhat is the big deal if one has a possible penicillin allergy?  There are many other antibiotics out there, right?  Unnecessarily avoiding penicillin could actually cause more harm than you would think.  Broad-spectrum antibiotics are often used as alternatives to penicilllins.  These antibiotics are typically more expensive, are more likely to cause significant side effects, and can increase the risk of antibiotic resistant infections.

Your provider at Colorado Allergy and Asthma Centers will evaluate your history of reaction to penicillin and if appropriate, order penicillin skin testing and oral challenge to determine if you are indeed allergic or if you are able to safely take this medication in the future. Book your appointment today!