About 10 percent of Houston-area residents believe they are allergic to penicillin, but research indicates penicillin allergies are much rarer than commonly thought. If you’ve shied away from the antibiotic when suffering from a bacterial infection, you might benefit from allergy testing to verify whether or not taking penicillin is actually dangerous in your situation.
Verifying Penicillin Allergies
Penicillin is the most common drug allergy in Texas and across the U.S. About one in ten people are prescribed less-effective antibiotics when suffering from an illness or infection that would be best treated with penicillin due to the belief that they are allergic to the drug. This puts them at a severe health disadvantage.
Penicillin allergies are an immune system response to the penicillin antibiotic. The drug itself is harmless, but it causes an adverse reaction in a certain percentage of the population whose bodies mistakenly view it as a threat. All allergies are the result of what could be considered a giant misunderstanding.
Those allergic to penicillin experience rashes and hives, itchy/watery eyes and inflammation of the lips, tongue and face. A rare but deadly side effect called anaphylaxis may also occur. This results in breathing difficulties, wheezing, dizziness, rapid or weak pulse, loss of consciousness, bluish tint to the skin, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and hives. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that demands immediate medical attention, as it can lead to shock, coma or death very quickly. Treatment consists of a shot of epinephrine to reverse symptoms.
Anaphylaxis and other severe reactions to penicillin should be taken seriously, but recent studies show that penicillin allergies aren’t nearly as common as we have been led to believe. In fact, experts estimate that nine out of ten people in Houston who believe they are allergic to penicillin actually are not.
Why Are Penicillin Allergies Overexaggerated?
If you’re curious how 90 percent of the population could have been falsely diagnosed with a penicillin allergy, there are a multitude of reasons. Often, a child developed a rash after being prescribed penicillin for an illness, so “penicillin allergy” was added to their medical record…even though it’s unlikely the rash was related to the antibiotic. Your risk of developing an allergic reaction to penicillin drops by about ten percent every year anyway, so as an adult, you are safer than ever.
False penicillin allergies aren’t only inconvenient; they can prevent you from receiving quality medical care, leading to higher morbidity rates, longer hospital stays, alternative antibiotics that are less effective and higher overall health care costs.
Fortunately, confirming whether you actually have a penicillin allergy is easy and quick. Any Houston area ear, nose and throat doctor can confirm or rule out an allergy to penicillin through a review of your medical history and a two-part penicillin skin test and challenge. A small amount of penicillin will be placed on your skin and you’ll be observed for a reaction. If one does not occur, you’ll be given a full dose of penicillin and monitored closely for an hour. If there is still no reaction, the false penicillin allergy listing will be removed from your health record and you will no longer have to worry about passing up your best option for treatment should you develop a medical condition that can be treated with penicillin.
To schedule an appointment for a penicillin allergy test, contact an ENT specialist in Houston today!