The Penicillin Allergy, Misdiagnosis, and Outgrowing It


Penicillin is one of the earliest types of antibiotics and is responsible for saving many lives. However, as our Little Rock Allergist points out, over the years since its discovery, many people have been misdiagnosed as having an allergy to penicillin.

Penicillin, developed from mold, was discovered in 1928 and began use as an antibiotic in the 1940s. Since then, penicillin has been used to treat various bacterial infections. While many people have taken penicillin to successfully clear bacterial infections over the years, many have also been misdiagnosed with a penicillin allergy.

Extensive misdiagnoses widely resulted from recording one-time reactions as an allergy in patients’ medical records. That is, many patients’ medical records did not specify a difference between an intolerance to medication and an allergy. Many people taking penicillin who had an immediate, but one-time reaction to the antibiotic were categorized as allergic. Commonly, a child that was prescribed penicillin for a bacterial infection would present some kind of reaction to the antibiotic, such as a rash, leading the doctor to enter a penicillin allergy in their medical record.

Over the years since its discovery, many patients who had what was likely a one-time drug reaction were classified as being allergic to penicillin, and therefore were not prescribed the drug. For some patients, this misdiagnosis had adverse effects. For instance, some patients hospitalized for infections that had a penicillin allergy on their record were prescribed other antibiotics that took longer to take effect, were not effective in clearing their infection, or had significant side effects.

A recent study presentation at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimated that as much as 90% of people diagnosed with a penicillin allergy were misdiagnosed. In recent years, many people who believed they had an allergy to penicillin have received simple skin or oral tests that showed no reaction to the antibiotic. It has also been common for parents to think their child has simply “outgrown” the allergy, when, the child ever had an allergy to begin with.

If you were diagnosed with a penicillin allergy, you may want to consider scheduling an appointment with our Allergist in Little Rock. Dr. Meredith Dilley can help determine if you are actually allergic to the antibiotic with some simple testing. Learn more about the Allergy Center at Arkansas Otolaryngology center HERE.

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