Failure to test for reaction to drug leaves most people mislabeled
Rashes are the temporary tattoos of childhood. The prickly, red bumps can blossom across the skin for a host of reasons: an ear infection, a virus or even an allergic reaction to a penicillin antibiotic. What’s hard to tell, though, is whether the penicillin or the illness itself triggers the rash. To be safe, doctors label some children as allergic to penicillin, but a skin test to verify the diagnosis rarely happens.
“These kids march into adulthood with a penicillin allergy label that’s never really addressed,” says Allison Ramsey, an allergist at Rochester Regional Health in New York.
About 10 percent of U.S. adults and children believe they have a penicillin allergy, the most commonly reported drug allergy. But 90 percent of people who think they’re allergic to penicillin actually aren’t, according to a 2010 report in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. There is a “massive problem with the overreporting of penicillin allergy,” Ramsey says.