An allergic reaction to penicillin can be terrifying. While some people only experience mild effects like a rash or hives, some people suffer from a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. If you or a loved one are allergic to penicillin or you are worried that you might have a penicillin allergy here’s what you need to know.
Penicillin allergy symptoms
Penicillin allergy symptoms may range from mild to life-threatening. They typically start within an hour of taking the drug, although reactions may occur hours, days, or even weeks later. Symptoms of a penicillin allergy may include:
- Runny nose
- Itchy, watery eyes
What you need to know about anaphylaxis
Anaphylaxis is an allergic reaction that can be life-threatening and is a medical emergency. Anaphylaxis can occur when someone is allergic to penicillin, so it is important to be cognizant of the potential symptoms. Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include:
- Closing airways causing trouble breathing
- Abdominal cramps
- Fast, weak pulse
- Lowered blood pressure
- Loss of consciousness
If you or a loved one experiences any symptoms of anaphylaxis after taking penicillin, seek emergency medical attention (call 911) immediately.
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Types of penicillin and related drugs
If you’ve had an allergic reaction to one type of penicillin, you may be more likely to have an allergic reaction to another penicillin or some types of cephalosporins. If you have a known penicillin allergy, you should try to avoid the following antibiotics due to an increased risk of an allergic reaction:
Types of penicillins to avoid
- Penicillin G
- Penicillin V
Types of cephalosporins to avoid
- Cephalexin (Keflex)
- Cefepime (Maxipine)
Who’s at risk of a penicillin allergy?
Anyone can suffer from a penicillin allergy, but some things can increase a person’s risk are:
- Having other allergies (such as seasonal or food allergies)
- Experiencing an allergic reaction to another drug
- Having a family history of drug allergies
- Increased exposure to penicillin through things like high doses, repetitive use or prolonged use
- Illnesses known to contribute to drug reactions, such as HIV or the Epstein-Barr virus
Avoiding a life-threatening penicillin reaction
If you know you have a penicillin allergy, there are some things you should do to ensure your safety:
- Tell all health care workers that you encounter about your penicillin allergy. Make sure it’s clearly marked in your medical and dental records.
- Wear a penicillin allergy bracelet to alert emergency medical personnel to your allergy if you are unconscious and unable to tell them yourself.
- Carry emergency epinephrine such as an EpiPen. If you suffer from a life-threatening penicillin allergy, your doctor can prescribe you emergency epinephrine that can stop or reverse an anaphylactic reaction.
Penicillin allergy treatment
There are two main ways to treat a penicillin allergy. The main treatment options for penicillin allergies are:
- Treating current symptoms may include stopping the medication, taking antihistamines or corticosteroids, and treating anaphylaxis.
- Drug desensitization becomes an option if penicillin is the best way to treat an infection. Very small amounts, then increasing doses are given every 15 to 30 minutes so that your body may accept the penicillin without an allergic reaction.
Penicillin allergy test
A skin test is available to check the likelihood of you having an allergic reaction to penicillin. A small amount of penicillin is put under your skin with a needle. If you have a penicillin allergy, an itchy, raised bump will form.
Think you may be experiencing symptoms of an allergic reaction to penicillin? Book an appointment with a PlushCare physician and get treatment today.