Last week we had the pleasure of speaking at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital on a topic that is near and dear to our hearts: Penicillin Allergies.
As some of you may or may not know, a penicillin allergy can be a life-threatening reaction to a number of different penicillin containing antibiotics in sensitive individuals. Penicillin allergies are quite common and people with penicillin allergies can also be sensitive to other types of antibiotics.
Here are a few interesting facts about penicillin and penicillin allergies. It is said that 2% of the population has an allergy to penicillin, however 10% of hospitalized patients report having a penicillin allergy. This means that 80% of people with a “self-reported” penicillin allergy probably do not have one. There area reasons for this discrepancy:
Many people with a history of penicillin allergies received that diagnosis when they were children and were too young to remember what kind of reaction they endured. This could be one of the reasons that so many people think that they have an allergy to penicillin, but in reality they don’t. They have likely outgrown their allergy.
When we hear this kind of story from our patients, we share this lovely fact with them: After 10 years of having an allergic reaction to penicillin, 87% of those people will "lose" the allergy and be able to tolerate penicillin, thus, not be allergic any more!
One way to know if you still have an allergy to penicillin is skin testing. Skin testing is available and with 98% certainty, will be able to determine whether someone is still allergic to penicillin. It is safe, cost effective and covered by most insurance plans.
Why get tested? Well, according to Dr. Tim Mainardi, "Patients with penicillin allergies are usually treated with different antibiotics that can be less effective or cause worse side effects. After verifying a penicillin allergy with a skin test, patients on average spend 32% less on antibiotics than those who were not tested."