I Had an Allergy to Penicillin When I was a Baby. Do I Still Need to Avoid It?

A woman in her late 30s who has frequent sinus infections is at an urgent care center again with another sinus infection. The doctor would like to prescribe amoxicillin. However, she has a history of hives after taking penicillin as a baby and she has not taken penicillin or any related antibiotics since then.  She is prescribed a much stronger antibiotic than is generally needed to treat a sinus infection.  She has noticed over time that her sinus infections seem to be getting more difficult to treat.

The impact of being labeled as having an allergy to penicillin can be significant and once you have the label, it can be hard to shake.  It may not seem like a big deal to be allergic to one antibiotic when there are so many others to choose from. However, the issue is that once you have a penicillin allergy, it does not just restrict your ability to take penicillin, but it restricts your ability to take related antibiotics. The good news is that many people actually outgrow their allergy over time and could safely take penicillin.

Penicillin and its related antibiotics are still among the most prescribed and are usually the preferred to treat common infections such as strep throat, sinus infections, ear infections, bronchitis, and skin infections. They are also among the preferred antibiotics that dentists and doctors prescribe prior to surgery and other procedures to help prevent infections.

There are other antibiotic options; however, they tend to cost more, may have more side effects,and may be less effective than penicillin or its relatives. Additionally, using stronger antibiotics than necessary, which occurs often when a doctor cannot use penicillin, can lead to increasing resistance to antibiotics. This means that the bacteria get smart and start to develop ways to adapt so they cannot as easily be killed by a particular antibiotic.

For all these reasons, it is advisable to discuss with your doctor your particular case and what your options are for further evaluating whether you are still allergic to penicillin. Chances are that if it has been many years since your reaction, you may no longer be allergic.

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