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New Test Reveals Most Aren't Allergic to Penicillin

A new study indicates that 9 out of 10 people who think they are allergic to penicillin aren't.
A new study indicates that 9 out of 10 people who think they are allergic to penicillin aren't.
September 6, 2016

BALTIMORE - Most people who think they're allergic to penicillin are not. A new study by the University of Maryland has found one in 10 of those tested who thought they couldn't take what's been called the "Wonder Drug" can actually safely use it.

Dr. Emily Heil, assistant professor of pharmacy practice and science at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, and lead author of the study, said that's good news because the antibiotic can be less expensive, less toxic, and it's often a doctor's first "go to medication." She said people who say they're allergic actually just could have had a reaction to it.

"Maybe someone got penicillin and they had a very upset stomach, and so therefore they've said they have a penicillin allergy because they remember having an adverse reaction to the drug, but having an upset stomach is not actually a true allergy, it's more of an adverse effect," she explained.

Skin testing was conducted on people who said they were allergic to penicillin while they were patients at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Test results showed nine in 10 were not actually allergic. That mirrors other studies that have been done across the nation.

Heil said sometimes a person doesn't remember having a reaction but their parents have told them they had an allergy.

"So we're not sure if it was truly an adverse affect vs. a real allergy and we don't often know the severity of the allergy, so was it a mild rash that you had to amoxicillin as a child that could actually be a non-allergic reaction, or was it an anaphylactic type reaction where you know you have throat swelling and shortness of breath," she said.

Antibiotics, including penicillin, are among the most commonly prescribed medications in the U.S.

The full study can be read here.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MD