Studies show that most people who think they are allergic to penicillin may not be truly allergic after all. NBC Nightly News (11/8/2014, story 8, 1:50, Williams) reported that the nation’s top allergists are saying most of those who believe they are allergic to penicillin are not.
Another survey shows that many physicians may have the wrong idea about allergies. HealthDay (11/8/2014, Norton) reported that research presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s annual meeting suggests that “many primary care doctors may not be up to speed on the causes and best treatments for allergies.” Investigators who surveyed more than “400 internists and pediatricians found that misconceptions about allergies were fairly common – particularly when it came to food allergies.” This means that false information has been going out.
Actually less than 10% of the population is truly allergic to penicillin. The actual infection may cause symptoms that mimic an allergy like a rash, or the drug can cause adverse effects like, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea, facial flushing, or headaches. Generally a 15 to 30 minute procedure involving skin testing will determine the level of sensitivity. This is typically followed with ingestion of a single amoxicillin tablet with an hour observation. Less than 3-5% will in fact have any true allergy.
On its website, NBC News (11/7/2014, Silverman) reported that in one study presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology meeting, investigators “tested 384 people who said they were allergic to penicillin.” ABC News (11/8) reported on its website that the investigators “found the overwhelming majority – 94 percent – of test subjects showed no allergy to penicillin.” Therefore, most people who believe they are allergic to penicillin are not. Because of the risk of anaphylaxis, however testing for penicillin allergy should only be done by an allergist in a doctor’s office.