The best way to avoid an allergic reaction to penicillin is to avoid penicillin and similar antibiotics altogether. If you require an antibiotic, your doctor will work with you to find one you can tolerate. When a doctor or other medical professional prescribes an antibiotic, be sure to double-check that it's not in the penicillin family.
For some infections, it may be necessary for you to take penicillin. In these cases, and if you previously experienced a reaction to penicillin, an allergy skin test may be important. If the skin test reveals that you're sensitive to penicillin, your doctor may recommend desensitization.
During the desensitization process, you receive small but gradually increasing doses of penicillin orally or intravenously. Because desensitization can trigger an allergic reaction, it's attempted only in a controlled setting, usually a hospital, by a doctor trained in the technique, and only when penicillin is absolutely necessary. Your desensitization lasts only as long as you continue taking penicillin. If you stop and then need to take penicillin again later, you'll need to go through the desensitization process again.
Dec. 15, 2011
- Solensky R. Allergy to penicillins. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Oct. 17, 2011.
- Penicillin allergy. American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. http://www.acaai.org/allergist/allergies/Types/drug-allergy/Pages/penicillin-allergy.aspx. Accessed Oct. 17, 2011.
- 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.