Do you know someone with a penicillin allergy? If so, they might be entirely misinformed.
A recent study has suggested that even though a large percentage of the population has been diagnosed with a penicillin allergy, the vast majority of these “allergies” are completely fake.
According to the study, a penicillin allergy is most commonly identified when a person is a child and the infection that resulted from penicillin use contributes to or is confused with an allergy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that while 10% of United States patients report having an allergic reaction to a penicillin class antibiotic, fewer than 1% of the population actually has an allergy. (1, 2, 3, 4)
How Can Penicillin Allergies Be Fake?
According to Doctor Maria Duggan, she was diagnosed with a penicillin allergy when she was a baby. Duggan said, “My whole life, I’ve had this label.” Lakisha Edmonson apparently endured a reaction to penicillin when she was only 8 years old, and Edmonson said, “They were like, ‘don’t ever give this to her again. She’s allergic to it.’” These are only two out of 25-30 million examples of American citizens who believe they are allergic to this life-saving antibiotic when, according to research, 96% of these penicillin allergies are not actually real. (1, 2, 3, 4)
Doctor Cosby Stone Jr., an allergist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says, “The label gets put in their chart for something that happened when they were a kid and those events, it turns out, are not always penicillin allergy.” Stone went on to say that people who are not allowed to take penicillin due to an “allergy” diagnosis are much more likely to have an infection after a surgery. Additionally, patients like these are far more likely to die from these infections, and they are more likely to die during cancer treatments. This means that having been diagnosed with a penicillin allergy is not only dangerous to your health, but also your life, meaning that the more fake allergies that can be ruled out, the better. (1, 2, 3, 4)
What To Do About A Penicillin Allergy
It’s important to understand that penicillins are one of the safest and most effective forms of antibiotics available to treat most infections. This means that if someone has been diagnosed with a penicillin allergy, it’s important to check again to see if the allergy is actually related to penicillin. (1, 2, 3, 4)
According to Doctor Stone, getting re-tested for a penicillin allergy is highly important. “Not only is it going to save your life, it’s also going to improve the quality of healthcare that you’re going to receive.” He goes on to explain that the entire process of re-testing only takes about two hours at the very most. The first step consists of a skin prick, then a small amount of penicillin that gets inserted under the skin. Both are carefully observed to watch for a reaction, and if both tests are negative, then a dosage is taken by the mouth. “The whole thing takes 15 minutes, plus 15 minutes, plan an hour of observation so about two hours at the most,” says Stone. (1)
According to Doctor Stone, any and everyone who believes they are allergic to penicillin antibiotic should get re-tested in order to identify if their allergy is true. People like Duggan from the beginning of this story discovered that an allergy they’d lived by for years was entirely false. “Getting a testing and knowing, for sure, that I was no longer allergic was very reassuring,” Duggan said. Not only is she much safer from infections should she ever require surgery, but her healthcare options are much improved. Correcting this false identification will greatly help those who are not truly penicillin-allergic decrease the widely unnecessary use of broad-spectrum antibiotics.(1, 3, 4)