In the United States, 1 in 10 patients are affected by penicillin allergy. And in the hospital, approximately 1 in 4 patients have a penicillin allergy listed on their medical record. If you carry this diagnosis, you are not alone!
What have we learned?
Research has shown that a large majority of these patients are not actually allergic to penicillin. When patients who reported ‘penicillin allergy’ on their chart were tested and challenged with penicillin, meaning a dose is given and the patient is closely monitored, more than 90% were not allergic. And in the United States, less than 1% of the population is truly allergic to penicillin.
Why does this matter?
Penicillin is a useful antibiotic that is prescribed to treat bacterial infections. Patients are often prescribed broad spectrum antibiotics, rather than a narrow spectrum antibiotic like penicillin. This can increase costs to the patient and lead to antibiotic resistance, which creates bacteria that are difficult to treat.
Were you misdiagnosed?
This is a complex question. Many children who are diagnosed with penicillin allergy have a similar story. Kids are often prescribed penicillin for illness and develop a rash while sick. Whether the rash was due to the drug or not, they are often told to avoid penicillin. Another common reason for misdiagnosis is when a patient has a family member with a drug allergy, the patient will avoid that drug due to the myth that drug allergies are genetic. Finally, drug allergies, particularly penicillin allergy, can change over time. The risk of a reaction to penicillin decreases by about 10% each year. The majority of patients lose their sensitivity to penicillin after 10 years.
How can you know if you’re really penicillin allergic?
The best way to diagnose an allergy to penicillin is through a highly sensitive penicillin skin test. An allergist/immunologist can perform this test in the office. If it is negative, the next step will be an oral challenge, where a dose is given and the patient is observed closely. If these tests are both negative, it is safe to take penicillin.
If you would like to be evaluated for a penicillin allergy or have questions about allergies, call our office to make an appointment with allergy specialist, Dr. Christina Ortiz at a TPMG – Coastal Allergy location in either Chesapeake or Virginia Beach.