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How do I Know if I Am Allergic to Penicillin?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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, many people do head to an allergist before accepting a prescription for penicillin, if they are concerned allergy may exist.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By AnswerMan — On Aug 12, 2014

I am definitely allergic to penicillin, so I wear a medical wrist bracelet all the time. If I accidentally get a dose of penicillin, I will have an allergic reaction just like some people get with bee stings or exposure to peanuts. Everything will swell up and I won't be able to breath on my own.

Thankfully, I've been able to take other prescription antibiotics whenever I get infections. The ER doctors look for those medical bracelets automatically, so even if I'm unconscious they'll know not to give me penicillin intravenously.

By mrwormy — On Aug 11, 2014

It seems like the last few times I've been to the emergency room, they have used other antibiotic drugs instead of penicillin. The nurse still asked me if I was allergic to penicillin, and I told her I didn't really know. I've only had one injection of it in my life, and that was 35 years ago. I think they decided not to take a risk because I didn't give them a definite "NO".

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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