Penicillin allergies occur when the immune system creates an abnormal
reaction when an individual takes penicillin. In cases of penicillin allergy, the immune system mistakes penicillin as a harmful substance trying to infect the body. An allergic reaction will occur after the immune system of the body produces an antibody called IgE against penicillin. The next time the drug is taken, the IgE will communicate with the white blood cells to produce histamine, which causes the group of symptoms associated with allergic reactions.An allergic reaction may occur anytime even if the drug has been taken numerous times before and there was no reaction prior to the first allergic reaction.
Penicillin allergy is the most common drug allergy. About 10% of all consumers of penicillin report an allergic reaction. From these 10%,a certain portion can resolve their hypersensitivity to penicillin over time. Penicillin is one of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics. It belongs to the beta lactams family. It is generally presumed that if one is allergic to penicillin, the other medications that are part of the same family should also be avoided, which include, Penicillin G, amoxicillin, ampicillin, nafcillin, oxacillin, cloxacillin and dicloxacillin, carbenicillin, ticarcillin and piperacillin.
Risk Factors for Penicillin Allergy
Although it is uncertain why people develop an allergic reaction to penicillin, the following factors are assumed to increase risks for developing penicillin allergy:
- Frequent use of penicillin
- HIV positive individuals
- Individuals with cystic fibrosis
- Prior allergic reaction to penicillin or other drugs
Signs and Symptoms of Penicillin Allergy
Most people who report to have penicillin allergy do not have true allergy. Not all reactions to penicillin are allergies. Symptoms of penicillin allergy include:
- Skin rashes
- Itching of the eyes and/or the skin
- Swelling of the lips, tongue or face
A person should be on the lookout for symptoms of anaphylaxis or severe allergic reaction, a life-threatening condition. Symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal cramps and diarrhea
- Swollen throat or tongue
- Drop in blood pressure
- Rapid or weak pulse
First Aid Treatment Management for Penicillin Allergy
For most cases of penicillin allergies, especially if it is the first attack, seek medical attention for a checkup. Treatment will vary depending on the symptoms that will show. Most treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and preventing further reaction in the body.
- In mild allergic reaction:
- Take over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines. Make sure the doctor has given his/ her approval.
- Advise the person to take cool showers and to apply cold compress. Rest in a cool room and wear loose clothes.
- Do not use strong soaps, detergents and other chemicals.
- In anaphylaxis:
- Call for emergency medical services at all times. It is a medical emergency that can be deadly if not given appropriate treatment and management.
- Epinephrine is usually injected and hospital care may be required.
Disclaimer: The information given above should not be used for medical diagnosis or medical advice. To learn how to treat penicillin allergies and other allergic reactions, join in First Aid Training. Join in CPR courses to learn proper CPR in severe cases of penicillin allergies or anaphylaxis.