A common concern we get from patients is their penicillin allergy. Penicillin reported allergy is the most common drug allergy in the United States. Estimates range from 10%-25% of the population have a penicillin allergy reported on their medical record.

However, even though you might have a penicillin allergy reported on your medical record it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a true allergy. In fact, over 90 percent of patients with a reported penicillin allergy are found to not actually have any allergy when formally tested.

LESS THAN 1 in 10 of reported penicillin allergies are truly allergic

WHY ARE THERE SO MANY FALSE PENICILLIN ALLERGIES?

One of the more common reasons that a penicillin allergy might be posted on a medical record is if a patient took penicillin as a baby and a rash appeared. Rashes are common in sick children and there is a good chance that it was unrelated to the medication. Also, many patients outgrow this kind of sensitivity.

80% of patients who may have once been allergic lose their penicillin sensitivity after 10 years

WHY DOES IT REALLY MATTER? I CAN JUST USE A DIFFERENT KIND OF ANTIBIOTIC.

There are a few reasons why a false penicillin allergy matters. Using the right first-line-directed therapy is in the best interest of the patient. Other medications may be more prone to secondary complications like causing an overgrowth of bacteria in the gut called clostridiodes difficile. C. diff infection causes a difficult to treat diarrheal illness. In addition, other treatments may not be as effective resulting in worse outcomes, longer hospital stays, and higher costs.

HOW DO I KNOW IF MY ALLERGY IS REAL OR NOT?

Your primary care provider can provide a referral to an allergy specialist. The specialist can perform tests including skin testing and even potential treatments like desensitization. If the skin test is negative, then you can safely remove the penicillin allergy from your medical record!

 

Check out these additional resources:

Is it Really a Penicillin Allergy?

Think You’re Allergic to Penicillin? Why You May Be Mistaken