Actually, You May Not Be Allergic to Penicillin

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A penicillin allergy should be determined with a test, but far too often are patients wrongly told that a reaction to the drug means that they are allergic to it.

A penicillin allergy should be determined with a test, but far too often are patients wrongly told that a reaction to the drug means that they are allergic to it.

Regardless of the fact that some of the patients never get an actual allergy test to determine a penicillin allergy, the majority of them will never take the drug again when it could help. David Kahn, MD, one of the authors of the study, will expand on the findings at the 2015 American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Annual Scientific Meeting (ACAAI 2015) in San Antonio, Texas.

The team looked at 15 patients who had been told that they were allergic to penicillin, but then tested negative for the allergy, and were then treated with the drug multiple times.

“Of the patients whose records we examined, there were no adverse drug reactions or evidence of recurrence of their penicillin allergy,” Kahn, from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, said in a news release.

It’s been thought that patients who had previously been told that they are allergic are put at an even higher risk with intravenous penicillins. However, the researchers found that’s not the case even with repeated use. In this analysis, none of the patients who then tested negative had reactions such as rash, hives, and swollen lips.

“Recent research has shown that patients who are labeled penicillin-allergic and take other antibiotics are more likely to have poor outcomes, such as development of colitis, longer hospital stays and greater numbers of antibiotic-resistant infections,” explained one of the authors Roland Solensky, MD, an allergist.

These findings push for several courses of action. For one, if a patients has been told that they are allergic to penicillin but have not been tested by an allergist, then they need to be. Also, health care providers need to dig deeper when a patient’s history claims the allergy — even when they do not need an antibiotic at that moment. Many patients may be candidates for penicillin but are missing out on an effective treatment.

“An allergist will work with you to find out if you’re truly allergic to penicillin, and to determine what your options are for treatment if you are. If you’re not, you’ll be able to use medications that are safer, often more effective and less expensive,” Khan concluded.

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