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Penicillin Allergy

Blog Allergies

Penicillin Allergy

writtenByWritten by: Jennifer Nelson
Jennifer Nelson

Jennifer Nelson

Jennifer is a writer in the Midwest who writes about a variety of topics but especially enjoys educating people about their health and the health of their pets.

Read more posts by this author.

July 26, 2018 Read Time - 4 minutes

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:

  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Fever
  • Swelling
  • Wheezing
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Anaphylaxis

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
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • 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

  • Amoxicillin
  • Ampicillin
  • Dicloxacillin
  • Nafcillin
  • Oxacillin
  • Penicillin G
  • Penicillin V
  • Piperacillin
  • Ticarcillin

Types of cephalosporins to avoid

  • Cefaclor
  • Cefadroxil
  • Cefazolin
  • Cefdinir
  • Cefotetan
  • Cefprozil
  • Cefuroxime
  • 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.

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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