Penicillin allergy occurs when your immune system responds to the drug as if it were a harmful substance instead of a helpful remedy. Your immune system triggers certain cells to produce immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to fight the component of penicillin to which you're allergic (allergen). Chemicals released by your immune cells can cause the signs and symptoms associated with an allergic reaction. Exactly why this happens isn't clear.
Penicillin belongs to a family of drugs called beta-lactam antibiotics. These drugs include penicillin and amoxicillin, which are relatively inexpensive and effective at treating many common bacterial infections. Such infections include skin, ear, sinus and upper respiratory infections.
Taken orally or injected, penicillin works by stopping the growth of bacteria in your body. Several varieties of penicillin exist, and each targets a different infection in a different part of your body. You may have heard of some of the other drugs in the penicillin family, including:
- Penicillin V
- Piperacillin and tazobactam combined (Zosyn)
If you're allergic to one type of penicillin, you're at risk of being allergic to all penicillin-related antibiotics. Some people allergic to penicillin may also be allergic to cephalosporins, a class of antibiotics related to penicillin.
Dec. 15, 2011
- Solensky R. Allergy to penicillins. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Oct. 17, 2011.
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- Drug hypersensitivity. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/immunology_allergic_disorders/allergic_and_other_hypersensitivity_disorders/drug_hypersensitivity.html#v996144. Accessed Sept. 12, 2011.
- Torres MJ, et al. The complex clinical picture of b-lactam hypersensitivity: Penicillins, cephalosporins, monobactams, carbapenems, and clavams. Medical Clinics of North America. 2010;94:805.
- B-Lactams. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious_diseases/bacteria_and_antibacterial_drugs/%CE%B2-lactams.html?qt=lactam&alt=sh. Accessed Oct. 18, 2011.
- Macy E, et al. Use of commercial anti-penicillin IgE fluorometric enzyme immunoassays to diagnose penicillin allergy. Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. 2010;105:136.
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