MIAMI, Fla. – Approximately ten percent of the U.S. population has reported to be allergic to penicillin, one of the most vital antibiotics prescribed by doctors for a variety of conditions like skin, sinus, throat and ear infections. Penicillin is part of a family of antibiotics known as beta lactams, and are very commonly used because it is often the best drug to treat infections, safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, safe for children, and less expensive than similar drugs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that
- Allergy to penicillin is the most commonly reported allergy, which leads to a restriction of your medication choices, and the use of more expensive and less effective antibiotics to treat common infections.
- Less than one percent of the population is in fact truly allergic to penicillin. They may be able to take penicillin without any adverse reactions, either because they were never allergic, or because their allergy has been resolved.
- Allergic symptoms to penicillin range from a mild skin rash to a severe reaction called anaphylaxis, which can be fatal if not treated in time.
- CDC recommends physicians to test patients for a true penicillin allergy before prescribing broad-spectrum antibiotics, the frequently used alternative to penicillin. "The use of these antibiotics for patients labeled as "penicillin allergic" is associated with increased risk for antibiotic resistance, suboptimal antibiotic therapy and higher healthcare costs," reports the CDC.
- Since many patients have been wrongly diagnosed over the years, either by overly cautious physicians or physicians not qualified to conduct thorough allergy testing, many people have been forced to use costly and less successful penicillin equivalent medications to treat their infections.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) reports that
- if a patient is not exposed to penicillin for 10 years after initial negative reaction, around 80% of people may not experience another reaction if exposed again.
Dr. Dana V. Wallace, board-certified allergist of Florida Center For Allergy & Asthma Care (FCAAC), recently led the ACAAI's Drug Allergy & Anaphylaxis Committee to develop the Penicillin and Cephalosporin Toolkit for allergists. "Discuss your past reactions to Amoxicillin, Augmentin, Keflex, Ceftin or another beta-lactam with your physician; request a referral to a board-certified allergist to get skin tested and challenged, if appropriate, and erase those scary red letters 'PCN Allergic' from your chart forever!", urges Dr. Dana V. Wallace.
FCAAC would like to
- Alert the community to be cautious when choosing a physician for penicillin allergy testing to avoid inaccurate diagnosis and costly, ineffective drugs and treatments.
- Inform that testing usually takes about three hours to complete and it consists of two phases.
- First, the skin is pricked and injected with small amounts of penicillin to then observe for a reaction.
- Second, after the skin test is completed without a positive reaction, an oral challenge to either penicillin or amoxicillin is administered to confirm the patient can safely take the medication.
- If a person has a negative skin test and no reaction to an oral dose of the antibiotic, they can then be safely classified as having no allergies to penicillin.