This week marks the 92nd anniversary of the discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928. It’s hard to imagine where we’d be without this lifesaving medicine! Penicillin medications are a group of antibiotics that treat a wide range of bacterial infections. The first drugs of this type, they have changed the way bacteria caused illnesses are treated, and have saved millions of lives. But did you know….
Allergy to penicillin is the most commonly reported drug allergy? 9 out of 10 people who think they’re allergic to penicillin actually are not?
Antibiotic resistance is an important, growing threat to public health in the United States and globally?
It’s common for people to believe they are allergic to penicillin, even though they have never been tested for this allergy. Sometimes an adverse reaction occurs as the result of taking a medication, and sometimes the reaction is allergic in nature, while other reactions are non-allergic, such as nausea or diarrhea.
Allergic drug reactions occur when the immune system recognizes a drug as something “foreign.” Symptoms that may indicate an allergy to penicillin include hives, swelling of the tissue under the skin (often around the face), throat tightness, wheezing, coughing, and diffculty breathing. Understanding the history of these types of reactions in a patient is important because they could develop a more severe reaction if the person were to take the antibiotic again.
If you’ve been told at some point that you have a penicillin allergy, you may want to know why you should be tested by an allergist to make sure. Why can’t you just take a different drug – one that doesn’t contain penicillin? It is critical to recognize that the best treatment for many of the most common infections is a penicillin medication. Over-reporting of penicillin allergy can lead to a greater use of broad- spectrum antibiotics, higher costs for patients and increased drug resistance. Generally, it is better to use a narrow spectrum antibiotic which targets only the bacteria causing the illness. While you are concerned with your personal health, and the best treatment for you and your family, you probably also understand that preventing drug resistance in the United States is an important societal problem.
Patients who test negative for penicillin allergy will want to follow up with their pharmacist and other health care providers to ensure the penicillin allergy label has been removed from their medical records.