Most patients who think they have a penicillin allergy aren’t truly allergic. In fact, research concludes that 90 percent of people who think they have an allergy to penicillin actually don’t, and 50 percent of “allergies” represent side effects or intolerances to penicillin, like nausea, vomiting and a headache. Here are some key points about penicillin allergies from Riverview Health allergy and immunology specialist Neha Yakhmi, MD.
What is a penicillin allergy?
Penicillin is a beta-lactam antibiotic that treats many bacterial infections. When you have a true penicillin allergy, your body mistakenly reacts to the drug as a harmful substance which may result in symptoms such as rash, hives, difficulty breathing and more.
Why does it matter?
Penicillin-related medications are among the safest and most effective antibiotics available. In many cases, a believed penicillin allergy is really a side effect or intolerance and not a true allergy. You may have had a reaction in your childhood, but most likely have since grown out of the allergy. It’s believed that a penicillin allergy often does not persist for life, even if people have had a reaction to it in the past, and 80 percent of individuals lose a penicillin allergy within a ten-year period.
What are the symptoms of a penicillin allergy?
Symptoms and signs of a true penicillin allergy usually start within minutes or two hours of taking the drug. These can include itching and hives, a rash, swelling or angioedema, shortness of breath, wheezing, fainting and chest tightness.
What is penicillin allergy testing?
A penicillin allergy may be evaluated through a penicillin skin and/or oral penicillin test. However, penicillin skin testing is the most reliable way to diagnose a true penicillin allergy.
How does the penicillin skin test work?
A skin test is when a small amount of penicillin is applied to the skin or administered into the skin to observe for signs of allergic reaction. A positive reaction will cause red, itchy, raised bumps.
How does the oral penicillin test work?
A dose of oral penicillin may be given to you by an allergist. The allergist will then observe you for an hour for any allergic reactions.
If you’d like to get evaluated for a true penicillin allergy, visit Riverview Health Physicians Allergy & Immunology, or call 317.214.5752.