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How Do I Know if I Am Allergic To Penicillin?

Penicillin is derived from the penicillium mold.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 March 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Lots of people don’t know if they’re allergic to penicillin. They may have heard stories about an allergic reaction in their childhood, or they may have no one to tell them if allergy to the medication. The quick solution to this is not to take penicillin and find out because even the barest suspicion of allergy should be treated as potentially dangerous.

There a few things that can be done to test if a person is allergic to penicillin. The first of these is to listen to any stories. Reports of reaction to penicillin should be taken seriously and told to doctors. Allergy can last a lifetime, and unless there is some reason why penicillin is the only suitable drug for a condition, it should not be tried or used.

Yet some people manifest penicillin allergy as adults, and this is usually for a single, simple reason. The first dose of penicillin rarely causes a reaction. It’s often the second time people take the medicine that an allergic response occurs. If someone is worried about this, one possible way to check is to do an allergy skin test with an allergist. These may be able to tell if people manifest an allergic response after having received penicillin once before in the past.

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This same advice would apply to anyone who is unsure about being allergic to penicillin. It is pretty easy to find allergists in most communities that can verify allergy, though it is still technically possible to have an allergic reaction later. Doctors may take this approach if they absolutely must prescribe penicillin to treat an infection. When a patient is unsure, they may perform an allergy test first to determine if allergy exists.

One reason that many people find it so important to know if they’re allergic to penicillin is because the allergic reaction to this medicine can be extremely serious and immediately life-threatening. Those who’ve had a reaction in the past are very likely to experience anaphylaxis if they take the medicine now. This can include symptoms like the airway closing off, the lips and tongue swelling, and ultimately unconsciousness.

In a hospital setting where the medication is being tried after a negative skin test, hospital personnel are well equipped to handle the emergency if a person is allergic to penicillin, often before much of that reaction manifests. At home, though, people don’t have the same medical options and would need to call 911, hoping help would arrive quickly. For these reasons, lots of people do head to an allergist before accepting a prescription for penicillin, if they are concerned allergy may exist.

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