Penicillin Allergies Often Wear Off As We Age; Patients Should Be Tested To Confirm Diagnosis

Most patients who have been diagnosed with penicillin allergies when they were younger probably aren’t allergic to it anymore, according to a new finding. The allergy frequently wears off over time, but most people live the rest of their lives believing they're still allergic, and pay for more expensive, unnecessary medication.

Mayo Clinic Allergist Dr. Thanai Pongdee, and his team retested 384 patients and found 94 percent of them were not allergic. The patients were scheduled to undergo several different types of surgeries when they were tested. Dr. Pongdee said he expected they would find maybe half of the patients still allergic to penicillin, a common medical allergy. However, when almost all of the patients found they weren’t allergic, it more than confirmed a suspicion doctors had for a long time.

"We knew that the majority of people who list penicillin as an allergy actually aren’t allergic when they are reevaluated, so if you can determine they are not, you can avoid using more potent and more expensive antibiotics," Dr. Pongdee told NBC News. "It doesn’t happen very often that a health care provider challenges the presumption that the patient is still allergic. Many don’t realize that this is something a person may lose over time."

When a patient walks into the hospital, one of the first questions they’re asked is, "Are you allergic to any medications?" Ten percent of the population report they're allergic to penicillin, making it the most commonly reported drug allergy, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). A patient with an allergy may develop hives, swelling, throat tightening, wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, it can cause a patient to go into sudden anaphylactic shock, which will rapidly worsen and could become deadly.

Penicillin has been around since 1928, and has been used to treat a variety of conditions, such as strep throat, ear infections, or sinus infections. Penicillin is the base of many front-line drugs, and if you can’t take one of those, you’re often prescribed a more expensive alternative with the potential to cause increased side effects.

In most cases, the patient’s sensitivity to penicillin will lessen overtime and they can be treated safely with the drug. It’s exciting news for patients with documented penicillin allergies because they can start receiving less expensive drugs, such as the generic penicillin-based amoxicillin used to fight bacterial infections. Most people are diagnosed when they are toddlers due to an adverse reaction, but then live the rest of their lives avoiding a drug due to unfounded fears about an allergy.

Penicillin skin testing is the most reliable method for evaluating immediate hypersensitivity reactions to penicillin. When negative -- which is most of the time -- the patient can then most likely tolerate penicillin.

Penicillin allergy skin testing is a relatively simple procedure completed in a couple of hours via scratch and intradermal testing. If skin testing is negative, the patient is then given an oral dose of penicillin and monitored. If you or your doctors need to know whether you’re still allergic to penicillin, please call our office to schedule penicillin allergy testing.

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