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The Medical Community’s Overdiagnosis of the Penicillin Allergy

Penicillin is one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs in history and has transformed the way that we deal with bacterial infections. Penicillin enabled humankind to no longer die from bacterial infections, and moved the scientific community to better understand how drugs work, which has led to many of the scientific achievements we have made in the last few decades. There are negatives when it comes to penicillin, though, one of which is that the more you take penicillin, the more likely bacteria will build up an immunity and becomes resistant to that strain of penicillin. There are also a significant number of people, an estimated 25 to 50 million people in the United States, who may believe they are allergic to penicillin, but who were actually misdiagnosed at the outset. The University of Maryland has estimated that only 1% of the population is actually allergic to penicillin, while roughly 10% of Americans believe they are penicillin-allergic.

Misdiagnosis of Penicillin Allergy

Many studies are becoming more widely available that show that many Americans have been misdiagnosed as allergic to penicillin. When a person is allergic to penicillin, he or she has to use an antibiotic alternative that is not nearly as effective as a penicillin-related drug, that is more expensive, and may have worse side effects than penicillin drugs.

What has also been adding to the penicillin misdiagnosis is the fact that many people will grow out of their allergy over time, and could one day be administered penicillin without any ill effects. It is reported that roughly 90% of patients may lose their allergy over time.

Diagnostic Tests to Determine Allergy Status to Penicillin

To test whether someone is allergic to penicillin, usually an allergy specialist applies a small dose of penicillin to the person’s skin either through a tiny injection or through a scratch on the skin. If the scratch/injection site is raised and is red and itchy, then this is usually interpreted as being a strong indication of allergy. However, if there is negative result, this may not necessarily mean that you are not allergic to penicillin. Sometimes skin tests are not the most foolproof way of testing for allergy. If there is doubt as to whether the person is allergic to penicillin, then the person may have to undergo a graded drug challenge. A graded drug challenge requires the person to receive four or five doses of penicillin, in incrementally higher doses until the threshold level has been surpassed.

Symptoms of a Penicillin Allergic Reaction

A person who is having an allergic reaction to penicillin develops one, many, or all of these reactions when exposed to the drug:

  • Skin rash and hives
  • Itching
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis may develop for a more serious allergy to penicillin and can lead to the constricting of a person’s airways and throat, leaving the person unable to breathe and susceptible to seizures, loss of consciousness, and possibly death.

Due to the nature and seriousness of penicillin allergies, it is always important to err on the side of caution. However, a person should not have to take less effective, more expensive non-penicillin drugs that can have worse side effects, if it is not necessary. Knowing one’s allergy status is important, and a medical professional should always take the appropriate steps to help someone determine what that status is.

Charles County, MD Personal Injury Lawyers that Fight for You

Penicillin allergies and other misdiagnoses can lead to serious harm. If you or a loved one was harmed as a result of a medical professional’s misdiagnosis, it is important to consult with an experienced Maryland medical malpractice attorney. Please call the Law Office of Robert R. Castro at (301) 804-2312 for a confidential consultation.