Outgrowing Penicillin Allergy?

Thousands of people go through life believing they are allergic to penicillin, but studies prove that only 10%
Published: Aug. 16, 2023 at 11:56 AM EDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Thousands of people go through life believing they are allergic to penicillin, but studies, including one just conducted at Vanderbilt University, prove that only 10 percent really are. Removing, or delabeling that penicillin allergy through testing means patients can take this critical antibiotic that’s been around since 1932.

Cathy Sparks’ immune disorder kept her in the doctor’s office as a kid. One infection led to her taking penicillin.

“Penicillin, apparently, I threw up violently and got a rash from head to toe, and so, the doctor just put it on a shelf,” she recalls.

And it is still on the shelf, even though Cathy is now a grandmother of 12.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center Professor of Medicine, Dr. Elizabeth J. Phillips, says, “The patients have been told by a parent that they’re allergic to penicillin. So, they’ve been told by someone that they trust.”

Three quarters of penicillin allergy labels come on by age three, but persist into adulthood. Using other drugs against complex infections costs more, they’re less effective and promotes antibiotic resistance. Additionally, real penicillin allergies are incredibly rare.

“True anaphylaxis associated with penicillin is less than one in 10,000,” Dr. Phillips adds.

Vanderbilt recently studied 300 patients labeled allergic and only three of them, or one percent, had a reaction. Cathy was not allergic, which was a life changer for her recent knee replacement surgery.

Cathy says, “Part of how we were able to do that was that fact that we knew we had new things in the arsenal.”

“If there is a risk associated with penicillin allergy, then, we recommend patients actually get that assessed in a specialty clinic,” Dr. Phillips explains.

“Medically, it’s normalized a whole segment of my healthcare. So, it’s really amazing,” Cathy exclaims.

Dr. Phillips and her team used a risk stratification tool that proved to be 99 percent effective in detecting the penicillin allergy. It’s now being used to guide testing and delabeling of around 50 percent of intensive care patients being evaluated.