September 2017: Getting over an allergy?


An allergy to penicillin comes up commonly in our clinic's comprehensive new patient examination. When questioned regarding the allergy many of my patients cite a reaction as a child or even that the patient’s parent may have had. They have been advised to avoid use of the antibiotic in fear that the next reaction may be more severe and potentially like threatening.

A recent study conducted at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto found that doctors were safely able to give antibiotics in over 80% of people in hospital who thought they were allergic.

"We were able to give antibiotics from the penicillin family in over 80 per cent of people who thought they were allergic."

"The penicillin family of antibiotics remains a workhorse for infections ranging from urinary tract infections to pneumonia. They're often considered the safe, first choice."

Yet one in 10 Canadians report an allergy to penicillin, which doctors know is an overestimate.

There are few reasons for the overestimate:

  • Allergic reactions an wane or disappear over time.
  • Patients have an intolerance to penicillin rather than a true allergy that automatically restricts use of the drug. 
  • Something else was going on to cause the original reaction, such as a viral infection, that was mistaken for an allergic reaction. 

I wonder how this study will affect the prevalence of allergy testing in the general population and how many patients in our practice will find that they are now able to tolerate antibiotics from the penicillin family.

Dr. Lauren Vredenburg

Calgary Fine Dentistry