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Is It Really a Penicillin Allergy?

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According to the CDC, 10 percent of U.S. patients report having a penicillin allergy, but in reality, less than one percent of them actually do.

Even if you were once allergic to penicillin, approximately 80 percent of patients that have experienced a true allergic reaction lose their sensitivity after 10 years.

You may be wondering why this is a big deal. The simple answer: having a penicillin allergy has been shown to increase your risk of death because you do not receive the preferred antibiotic.

Patients who have an infection and a penicillin allergy are often prescribed inferior antibiotics. Penicillins are a large class of antibiotics and are often the most optimal and first-line option for a variety of infections. Usually, alternative antibiotics are more broad-spectrum, and the use of unnecessarily broad-spectrum antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance.

Overuse and misuse of antibiotics can promote the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. This means it is crucial to find out if your penicillin allergy is the real deal to avoid use of unneeded antibiotics.

Not all allergies are the same. Some reactions are not serious, and you can still tolerate that antibiotic or another antibiotic in the same class. It is important to appropriately classify the type of allergy you have.

Here is a list of questions your physician should ask you when completing a history and physical exam following your drug reaction:

  • What medication were you taking when the reaction occurred?
  • What kind of reaction occurred?
  • How long ago did the reaction occur?
  • How was the reaction managed?
  • What was the outcome?

A penicillin skin test can be used to confirm if you have a severe penicillin allergy. At the end of the day, the best way to avoid antibiotic resistance is to educate yourself. Know what you’re taking antibiotics for, question if you really need it, and identify your true allergies. Antibiotics are powerful medicines that fight bacterial infections. Do what you can to ensure they will continue to work in your favor.

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