The most common cause of drug allergies is penicillin and other antibiotics similar to penicillin.
Up to 10 percent of people report being allergic to penicillin, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. But according to David Lang, M.D., an allergist at Cleveland Clinic,
most people who believe they have a penicillin allergy, actually don’t or don’t any longer.
“If you have penicillin allergy, it’s likely that you’re avoiding penicillin and penicillin-type drugs needlessly,” said Dr. Lang.
It’s worth getting checked
Penicillin is used to treat an array of bacterial infections.
People who are allergic to penicillin may experience symptoms that can include itching, hives and difficulty breathing; which can be serious or even life-threatening.
When someone gets an infection and is labeled ‘allergic to penicillin’, they will get an alternative non-penicillin medication, even though a penicillin-type drug might be best to fight the infection.
Penicillin alternatives are often more costly, may come with a greater risk of side effects and can also fuel the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria - a major concern as doctors are seeing an increasing rate of antibiotic resistant organisms.
True allergy or confusion?
Over time many people lose their allergy to penicillin, allowing them to be safely treated with the drug.
Or, sometimes people have had symptoms while taking penicillin that lead to them being labeled as allergic, when they’re really not.
In fact, Dr. Lang says nine-out-of-ten people who report being allergic to penicillin, aren’t truly allergic or aren’t allergic anymore.
He says it’s definitely worth getting tested to determine if you’re really allergic or still allergic to penicillin – but it’s not something that’s safe to simply assume.
“It’s important not to do this on your own and not to assume that because 90 percent are not, or no longer allergic to penicillin, that I can take it safely,” said Dr. Lang. “You’ve got to see a board certified allergist who is skilled and trained in doing this kind of testing to determine whether you can take penicillin safely.”