In 1928, Alexander Fleming, a bacteriologist at St. Mary’s Hospital, stumbled upon a mold called Penicillium notatum, and the world would never be the same. With an unbelievable ability to prevent the growth of bacteria such as Staphylococcus, its discovery was an invaluable gift to the medical community – helping to cure hordes of people from infectious diseases that were previously considered indomitable. But as with anything else, one must take the good with the bad; in the case of Penicillin, life-threatening allergies to this useful medicine are an ever-present caveat.
According to Mayo Clinic, this allergy is an abnormal reaction of your immune system to the antibiotic drug penicillin and is marked by hives, rashes, and itching. In severe cases, anaphylaxis can occur, which can be life-threatening. The classic chicken or egg debacle translates well to penicillin allergies, with many doctors diagnosing them in young children without knowing full well what the real source of the rash is. A multitude of problems – from ear infections to viruses – can act as catalysts for red itchy rashes, and without a professional skin test, there is no way of detecting the root cause.
According to an excerpt from an Allergy and Clinical Immunology journal, “Unverified penicillin allergy is being increasingly recognized as a public health concern” – with 10% of children and adults in the United States believing they are affected and 9 out of 10 people not actually possessing the allergy they believe they have. Erring on the side of caution can be good for many things in life, but in the case of penicillin allergies, it’s best to find out if you are indeed affected. Alternative broad-spectrum antibiotics offered to those with these false diagnoses don’t treat illnesses as effectively and may even lead to other adverse reactions. The Centers for Disease Control affirms that they are also associated with higher health care costs, increased risk for antibiotic resistance, and suboptimal antibiotic therapy.
For this reason, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and the American Centers for Disease Control have declared September 28th National Penicillin Allergy Day in hopes to spread awareness and promote education about both penicillin allergies and the benefits of regular testing. It’s important to note that people also grow out of allergies as they age – with 80% of those patients who once possessed IgE-mediated penicillin allergies losing their sensitivity after ten years.
If you think you may have outgrown your allergy – or you suspect that you’ve been incorrectly diagnosed, it may be time to seek the advice of your healthcare professional. Reputable board-certified physicians, such as Drs. Lockey, Fox, Ledford, and Glaum at the Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Associates of Tampa, make it their goal to provide comprehensive and cost-effective care for those suffering from allergies. Their facility offers everything from full-service testing, to education on how to prevent future reactions.
If you’re one of the many who wants to put an end to a clinical and public health crisis surrounding unverified penicillin allergies, take a stand by sending a proclamation to your state representatives acknowledging September 28th as National Penicillin Allergy Day (NPAD). It’s one strong reaction worth having. For more information on allergy testing, call Allergy Associates of Tampa at 813-971-9743.