If you or your child have a penicillin allergy, that’s a bad thing. If you get sick and really need an antibiotic, you’ll be denied one of the most effective, cheapest, lowest-side-effect options out there.
But is it really penicillin allergy? A new study suggests that many people don’t actually have a reaction to this versatile antibiotic, and can take it without worry.
Researchers tested 100 children whose parents thought they were allergic to penicillin (but they probably weren’t, based on symptoms that their parents reported in a questionnaire). Sure enough, when the kids were actually tested, not a single child actually had a penicillin allergy!
Why is this happening? A lot of times, a child will receive penicillin for a viral infection, and then they get a rash. The rash is blamed on the penicillin, but in all likelihood, the infection itself caused it. In other cases, a patient is treated with multiple drugs that could have caused a reaction, yet penicillin gets the blame.
Your allergist can do a simple, low-risk skin test to find out if you or your child is truly allergic to penicillin. From our experience, 9 out of 10 children or adults we test actually turn out to be OK. They can safely take this useful antibiotic without any concern, other than the mild side effects you mights experience with any antibiotic.
Getting tested is good for society, too. Increasing resistance to antibiotics is one of the biggest threats to public health in the world. We may be inadvertently contributing to that crisis by skipping over penicillin and using more expensive antibiotics reserved for patients who are already resistant to penicillin.
I won’t go into too much detail on why penicillin is so powerful. But you should know that it’s bactericidal, which means it kills the bacteria. Some less effective antibiotics are just bacteriostatic, which means it just stops the bacteria from reproducing.
Penicillin is so safe that it can be taken in pregnancy and given to small children. That’s not true for all antibiotics. Some non-penicillin antibiotics can actually cause tooth changes, or joint and bone damage in children.
Penicillin allergy testing can open the doors to more effective treatments when you do get sick. If you’re like the majority of our patients, you’ll be fine. You can rest assured that you’re OK to use a treatment that’s very effective with less side effects than some other antibiotics.