Know Your Allergies: National Penicillin Allergy Day

By: Alfred L'Altrelli, PharmD

On this day in 1928, Alexander Flemming discovered penicillin. This was a big change in how medical professionals approached treating infections at the time, and its use since has saved countless lives.

Like all medication therapies, penicillin comes with side effects. As pharmacists, we oftentimes see penicillin allergies listed in medical records that are not always related to being allergic to the drug, such as nausea, vomiting and fatigue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, an estimated 10% of patients state an allergy to penicillin, but less than 1% are actually allergic. For this reason, Sept. 28 is National Penicillin Allergy Day, which is dedicated to understanding the impact of having a penicillin allergy listed in a patient’s medical record.

Penicillin is both a medication and a medication class, which contains any beta-lactam antibiotics such as amoxicillin, augmentin, ampicillin and cephalosporins. Many times, these medications are the first and best choice for treating an infection. When a medical record lists penicillin as an allergy, patients run the risk of receiving a medication that is less effective, has more side effects or is more expensive.

This day is about the importance of knowing an individual’s true allergy history. Patients should work with their pharmacists and physicians to discern allergies from side effects, which can sometimes look similar, to ensure they are receiving the most effective course of treatment for their infection.

If you think you may have had an allergic reaction to penicillin, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

When alternate drugs are prescribed to treat conditions best fought with penicillin, we risk creating antibiotic resistance. This is a public health concern, and it occurs when harmful bacteria respond to drugs in a way that allows them to be less affected or unaffected by antibiotics, leaving us with fewer options for treatment.

National Penicillin Allergy Day serves as a reminder for us all to consider the long-term implications of our listed allergies.

Alfred L’Altrelli, PharmD, is the administrative director of pharmacy at UPMC Presbyterian.