What is Penicillin Allergy?

Penicillin AllergyPenicillin allergy is an unusual immune system response which develops to penicillin or other related antibiotics. It is one of the common causes of asthma in the United States and it is estimated that nearly 3 – 10% of Americans have penicillin allergy. If you are allergic to penicillin, you may suffer from mild rash to severe anaphylactic reaction. Once you are known to have allergy towards penicillin, it is better to avoid taking penicillin and related drugs.

This is also one of the common drug allergies and is usually prescribed for infections like strep throat. The following article gives the complete overview of

penicillin allergy

including causes, symptoms, risk factors, treatment and prevention. Let us have a complete look at it.

Symptoms of Penicillin Allergy

Penicillin allergy develops inflammation that would result in various symptoms. These symptoms vary from person to person and at times, they even turn to be severe.

Symptoms are usually related to skin inflammation and respiratory system. They include:

  • Itchy skin
  • Itchy eyes
  • Wheezing
  • Swelling of the face, lips and tongue
  • Hives or rash
  • Anaphylaxis (severe life threatening reaction)

Serious symptoms which indicate life threatening, anaphylactic reaction include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Rapid breathing or difficulty in breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Loss of consciousness or lethargy
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue and throat
  • Nausea
  • Wheezing

The above serious symptoms of anaphylaxis usually develop in highly sensitive people.

Causes of Penicillin Allergy

Penicillin allergy develops when the immune system overreacts to penicillin drug taking it to be a harmful substance. It therefore produces IgE (immunoglobulin E) antibodies which will fight against penicillin causing allergic signs and symptoms.

Penicillin belongs to beta lactam family of antibiotics which include the drugs penicillin and amoxicillin. These drugs are effective at treating certain bacterial infections of sinus, ear, skin and upper respiratory tract. They work by stopping the bacterial growth in the body. Some of the mostly prescribed drugs include:

  • Amoxicillin
  • Dicloxacillin
  • Ampicillin
  • Piperacillin
  • Penicillin G
  • Penicillin V

If you are allergic to any of these drugs, it is evident that you are at high risk of developing allergies to all penicillin related drugs. One may not have penicillin allergy by birth, but can develop later in life on exposure to it.

Risk Factors for Penicillin Allergy

There are certain factors that increase the risk of developing penicillin allergy. Some people may be at high risk than others. The risk factors include:

  • Age in between 20 – 49
  • Frequent intake of penicillin
  • Had allergic reaction to penicillin or related drug in the past
  • Having cystic fibrosis
  • Having HIV/AIDS

Diagnosis of Penicillin Allergy

The physician thoroughly studies the allergic individual’s reactions to penicillin and examines even other medical problems present. The physician recommends the person to be tested for penicillin allergy if:

  • He/she had any past allergic reaction to penicillin
  • He/she requires penicillin as it is the only effective drug
  • The physician wants to suggest any another strong antibiotic

Determining the penicillin allergy should only be performed by an allergist or expert physician because of the risk of anaphylaxis. Skin test is suggested to determine the drug’s sensitivity.

Skin test
The skin of the forearm or back is targeted where in a small amount of penicillin antibiotic is injected into it. The individual may develop raised, reddened bump in case the reaction is positive which means he/she is allergic to penicillin.

If the skin test results are positive, the physician recommends you to stop taking penicillin and related antibiotics. If the results are negative, one may continue to take the antibiotic.

Treatment for Penicillin Allergy

The main treatment for penicillin allergy is to avoid future intake of penicillin and related antibiotics. Treatment depends on the kind of reaction a person develops.

  • Rashes or hives can be treated with antihistamines like diphenhydramine. If the symptoms are more severe, they require oral or injected corticosteroids.
  • Anaphylaxis is a life threatening reaction and requires only epinephrine injections, along with medical care. It therefore maintains blood pressure and breathing at normal levels.

Prevention of Penicillin Allergy

Avoiding intake of penicillin and similar antibiotics is the best way to prevent penicillin allergy. The physician may recommend you another antibiotic if you are in very much need of it. But, it is always advisable to double check the antibiotic before taking.

Penicillin desensitization
Some infections require the intake of penicillin drug at any cost. In such cases, if you had any past allergic reaction to penicillin, you should go for a skin test which is very important. If the test determines that you are allergic to penicillin, then the physician may suggest desensitization. This entails giving initial small amounts of penicillin drug and gradually increasing the doses either orally or intravenously. This is continued as long as the person can tolerate to a full therapeutic dose. It usually takes one to two days and in most of the cases, it doesn’t work.

This is all about penicillin allergy in detail. Wearing a medical alert bracelet is a very good idea as it helps you in describing the allergy. You can get it in any medical stores.