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Are You Really Allergic To Penicillin?

Posted Monday, December 12, 2016 by Gene Moen

Penicillin allergy is the most common medication allergy and leads to many substitutions of other antibiotic drugs. Many of those drugs are not only more expensive, but less effective than penicillin. Besides penicillin itself, the allergy can extend to related drugs, such as amoxicillin, augmentin, and ampicillin.

When checking the allergy box in a health questionnaire, patients often check penicillin because their mother told them that, when they were a child, they had a rash when given the drug. Yet few of these patients have undergone actual penciling allergy drugs. Physicians don’t want to chance giving someone an anaphylactic reaction, so they choose other antibiotics instead.

A recent study found that 94% of people who thought they were allergic to penicillin actually were not allergic to the drug. The Mayo Clinic researchers tested 284 people who were scheduled to undergo surgeries, and who thought they had the penicillin allergy. They expected that perhaps half of those patients, when tested, would prove to not be allergic. They were surprised by the much higher percentage they found

The importance of the findings is that a simple, 30-minute skin test can determine whether a patient has an actual allergy to penicillin and penicillin-related drugs. Undergoing this evaluation can allow a physician to not use more toxic and more expensive antibiotic drugs. Some of the drugs, like Levaquin, are many times more expensive than penicillin and can have serious side effects like tendon damage.

Another benefit is that if the other drugs are used less often, it is less likely to lead to the development of resistant “superbugs” like MRSA.

The research was recently presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. One conclusion of the study was that, even if someone has a mild reaction to allergy at one time in their life, they usually outgrow it. Taking the time to do a simple follow-up test can avoid the problems associated with using antibiotic drugs that may have more side effects, cost more, and risk the development of “super-bugs.”

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