Jul 28, 2023

Think you’re Allergic to Penicillin? Odds are Good that You Aren’t

Allergists urge testing to be sure.

Does your medical chart read “Penicillin allergy”? 

Penicillin is one of the most important antibiotics doctors can prescribe for ear, sinus, chest, throat and skin infections. Penicillin has many advantages –it’s often the best drug to treat infections, is safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, it’s well tolerated in children and is very economical.

Of all the drug allergies, penicillin allergy is the most common. “Many people, after having experienced a minor reaction to penicillin, are told by their physicians that they are allergic when it has never been clinically established, or the patient assumes he or she is allergic,” said allergist Dr, Raquel Watkins, of Watkins Allergy and Asthma Clinic which is based in Jacksonville, Florida. “That said, a small portion of the population is allergic to the drug.” Allergic symptoms vary from a mild skin rash to a severe chain reaction within the body called anaphylaxis, which can be fatal.

Doctors tend to err on the side of caution and note it on your medical record. Even when the initial allergic response is minor, subsequent exposure to the antibiotic can trigger a severe life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. If your doctor is unable to prescribe penicillin for you, it restricts your medication choices. Less effective or more expensive antibiotics may be needed to deal with common infections.

Over the years, Dr. Watkins has seen patients reporting penicillin allergies in a number of ways. “I’ve had patients come in and report an allergy because they had a reaction when they were very young and their parent told them they were allergic.

Other patients worry that they may have inherited a penicillin allergy from a family member, or are confused about the difference between penicillin’s side effects and a true allergic reaction.”

If you think you have a penicillin allergy, consider seeing an allergist for testing ­– 90 percent of patients tested are found not to be allergic. The standard test for penicillin allergy involves skin-prick testing (introducing the allergen by scratching the skin) and intradermal testing (injecting the allergen just beneath the skin).

A positive result would confirm that you should not take penicillin. A negative result may be followed by a controlled test in your allergist’s office with oral dose(s) of penicillin to truly ensure that you are not allergic to the drug.

“Anyone who thinks they may have had an allergic reaction to penicillin should schedule a consultation with a board-certified allergist,” said Dr. Watkins “In most cases, the ‘penicillin allergy’ label can be removed from your chart.”

If you are one of the millions of Americans who has lived with the possibility of a penicillin allergy, think about getting testing. Learn more by contacting Dr. Watkins at 904-298-1800.