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Allergic to penicillin as a kid? You might not be anymore.

Posted at 5:44 AM, Jan 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-17 08:15:06-05

(WXYZ) — Penicillin allergies are often discovered among children when they are being treated for common pediatric illnesses like ear infections, and the label typically stays with them for a lifetime.

But if this has happened to you, there is a good chance the penicillin allergy label no longer applies.

For Oakland County mother of three Carrie Weingartz, penicillin has been off-limits since the age of four.

"I broke out in a rash all over my body," said Carrie.

Carrie recalls her mother’s description of the allergic reaction.

"She said it was kind of red and blotchy and it was mostly on the trunk area," she said.

Their family doctor at the time suggested she never take penicillin again.

This is a familiar story for Dr. Rajan Ravikumar, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Allergy and Immunology at Michigan Medicine and Medical Director of the Beta-Lactam Service. Beta-lactams are a family of antibiotics that include penicillin derivatives, cephalosporins.

"Oftentimes both those antibiotics are commonly utilized to treat all sorts of infections. And oftentimes your first line treatment," said Dr. Ravikumar.

But not for those with allergies. That's where Dr. Ravikumar and his team come in. They reevaluate Michigan Medicine patients to see if those penicillin allergy is still valid. It requires a thorough patient history. Low risk patients are given the medication orally and monitored closely with vitals signs taken every 15 minutes.

"When we've done this approach, over 99% of the people who have done this drug challenge have passed," he said.

According to the CDC, less than one percent of the US population is truly allergic to penicillin, and removing the label is vital to improving health outcomes. While there are other non-beta-lactam antibiotics, Dr. Ravikumar says they often don’t work as well.

"The risk of a surgical site infection goes up by 50% if something besides a beta-lactam is utilized at the time of surgery," said Dr. Ravikumar.

And he says risk of contracting C. diff — a potentially deadly bacterial infection — increases by 30-40 percent.

So who grows out of their penicillin allergies? Dr. Ravikumar says just about everyone. If it’s been more than 10 years since your last encounter with penicillin and other beta-lactam antibiotics, chances are pretty good you can tolerate them now.

This is good news for adults like Carrie.

"So I feel like it would just give me more options because of the fact that people say different antibiotics are becoming more effective nowadays," she said.

Using broad spectrum antibiotics as an alternative to penicillin and related medicines is a factor in increasing antibiotic resistance, and because alternatives are less effective — they drive up healthcare costs.

So, If it has been a while since you were diagnosed with a penicillin allergy, it may be time to contact your doctor to see if that diagnosis is still accurate.