September 28 is National Penicillin Allergy Day! Today we strive to raise awareness of the drug and the effect it has on allergic patients. Penicillin is the most common drug allergy, affecting up to 10% of the population. Mild and severe symptoms have been reported. It’s important to test for this allergy not just to prevent serious allergic reactions, but to help confirm or disprove a previous label of penicillin allergy. Penicillin allergy is commonly over-reported, resulting in unnecessary use of stronger antibiotics that can lead to resistance. Up to 90% of patients with a label of penicillin allergy will actually test negative when evaluated by an allergist. Most patients lose their penicillin allergy over time, even those with a history of severe reaction such as anaphylaxis.
What Symptoms Will I Experience If I Am Allergic To Penicillin?
Symptoms of a penicillin allergy can emerge immediately or hours after being exposed to the drug. The common symptoms are:
- Skin rash
• Shortness of breath
If you experience any of these symptoms after taking penicillin, contact your doctor immediately.
How Do You Diagnose A Penicillin Allergy?
An allergy test can diagnose this allergy. The most common form of testing is a skin test. An allergist will safely administer the test by pricking the skin with a small amount of the allergen, followed by introducing the allergen beneath the skin if no reaction is observed by skin prick. To confirm a negative test, a dose of penicillin-containing medication (usually amoxicillin) may be administered in the office under careful observation. Since penicillin is known to cause severe allergic reactions, your doctor will have epinephrine on hand to treat any symptoms. Never attempt to diagnose an allergy on your own.
Is There Treatment For A Penicillin Allergy?
Desensitization can be done for those seriously allergic to penicillin. During this process, a doctor will gradually administer the medication by mouth or as shots to allow patients to temporarily tolerate the drug. Desensitization is recommended for patients that require treatment with penicillin. Certain conditions can only be treated with the drug, such as neurosyphilis.
If you don’t require penicillin to treat your infection or other conditions, it’s best to avoid the medicine whenever possible. There are many alternative medicines available. In the event you come in contact with penicillin, antihistamines can treat minor symptoms. For more serious allergic reactions, ask your allergist about an epinephrine auto injector.
How Do I Get Involved On National Penicillin Allergy Day?
The NPAD Toolkit offers a variety of ways to help spread awareness. It offers social media templates, hashtags, and patient education brochures. You can also visit NY Allergy & Sinus Centers for a quick allergy test. We have seven convenient locations in Manhattan and Queens and can accommodate for same-day appointments and walk-ins.
Be sure to tag @nyallergy and use the hashtag #NPAD in your Twitter and Instagram campaigns. Get involved and help us spread the word on penicillin allergy!
Meet The Physician Collaborator
Dr. Tehila Saadia is a physician specializing in both Pediatric and Adult Allergy & Immunology. She treats a wide variety of allergic and immunologic disorders, with a special interest in food allergies, contact dermatitis and urticaria (hives). She is Board Certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. You can schedule an appointment with Dr. Saadia by calling (212) 686-4448 or by visiting one of our seven locations.