Medical IDs for Penicillin Allergy

Living with allergies

Antibiotics, such as penicillin, can save a person’s life when given to treat certain types of bacterial infections. But for some people, getting a dose of penicillin can actually be life-threatening, due to an allergic reaction to the antibiotic. Penicillin allergy bracelets can protect those with an allergy to penicillin in the event of an emergency.  

What is penicillin? 

The discovery of penicillin in the late 1920s is often heralded as the start of the age of antibiotics. When Alexander Fleming discovered the mold that produces the antibiotic penicillin, he paved the way for the discovery of medicine that treats conditions such as rheumatic fever, strep throat, gonorrhea and pneumonia.  

Penicillin is an example of a narrow-spectrum antibiotic, meaning that it is only effective against some types of bacteria. Broad-spectrum antibiotics are effective against a wider range of bacteria. 

Penicillin is actually a family of antibiotics and is available in many different forms in the U.S. For example, penicillin V is often prescribed to treat respiratory illnesses caused by bacteria. Amoxicillin can treat respiratory and ear, nose, and throat infections as well as urinary tract and skin infections.  

“I was in a car accident and thankfully I was wearing my MedicAlert pendant. The ambulance and emergency room personnel were informed of my allergic reactions to certain drugs.”

– Anne B., MedicAlert member since 2003

What is a penicillin allergy? 

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), about 10% of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with a penicillin allergy. When you’re allergic to penicillin, your immune system has an unusual response when exposed to the antibiotic. It kicks into high gear and begins attacking otherwise healthy cells. 

Although 10% of people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with a penicillin allergy, it’s possible that many of those people don’t actually have an immune response when they take penicillin. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that it’s likely that true penicillin allergies only affect about 1% of people. 

It’s possible for a penicillin allergy to fade with time or for the body to get over the allergy, which explains the discrepancy between the number of people diagnosed as allergic and the number who are genuinely allergic to the medication. The CDC notes that just a small percentage of people actually have an Immunoglobulin E, or immune system response when they take the antibiotic.  

If you’ve been diagnosed with a penicillin allergy previously and aren’t sure if your body is still allergic, you can ask your doctor to perform an allergy test to verify. A skin test can detect if there’s an immune response. Your doctor might also test your immune response by giving you an oral dose of the antibiotic. 

Since allergies change over time, it’s a good idea to work closely with an allergist to confirm whether you remain allergic to penicillin or not. 

The importance of an allergy medical ID bracelet

Wearing a medical ID at all times ensures your medical conditions are immediately known in an emergency.

When first responders see a MedicAlert ID, they know to contact MedicAlert to get your complete health record.

Get protected 24/7 with a medical ID and membership.

Should someone who’s allergic to penicillin wear a medical ID? 

If you or someone you love is allergic to penicillin, wearing a penicillin allergy bracelet or carrying another type of medical ID is a must. The penicillin bracelet can alert emergency medical technicians, doctors and nurses to your allergy if you are unable to speak for yourself or if you are in an emergency situation. 

In a medical emergency, a healthcare provider might give penicillin to a patient as a preventative measure, to ward off infection. While the antibiotic can be beneficial in some cases, when someone is allergic, it can be life-threatening. Once the healthcare provider knows you have a drug allergy, they can administer a different type of medication, such as a broad-spectrum antibiotic, to help improve your outcome. 

What are signs of a penicillin allergy? 

If you are allergic to penicillin, you’ll often develop symptoms of the allergy within an hour or so of exposure. Some allergic people might not have a reaction for several hours or even for up to one week after exposure, though. 

Common signs of an allergic reaction to penicillin include:  

  • Wheezing
  • Rash or hives 
  • Itchy skin 
  • Itchy, water eyes 
  • Runny nose 
  • Swelling 
  • Fever 

Source: MAYO Clinic

In rare cases, a person with an allergy to penicillin can experience anaphylaxis after exposure. Signs of anaphylaxis include nausea and vomiting, trouble breathing, a drop in blood pressure and a rapid but weak pulse. Some people also lose consciousness when they experience anaphylaxis. 

How do you treat an allergic reaction to penicillin? 

The best way to treat an allergic response to penicillin is to avoid exposure to the antibiotic in the first place, reducing the likelihood of an allergic reaction. 

Should you start to experience the signs and symptoms of an immune response, medications can help to minimize the immune response. For example, a doctor might recommend that a person take antihistamines or use corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and quiet the immune system. 

If you take penicillin and go into anaphylaxis, immediate medical attention is needed. You’ll need an epinephrine injection and will most likely need to go to the hospital to help your breathing and to increase your blood pressure. 

Another option is for you to work with your doctor to desensitize your body to the antibiotic. Desensitization might be a good choice if you need to take penicillin to treat infection and there are limited other treatment options available. The process involves taking a small dose of the antibiotic and seeing how your body responds.  

If you don’t have a reaction, your doctor will give you a slightly large dose of penicillin. The dose will increase, provided your body doesn’t react, until it is the amount required to treat the infection. 

As with any medical condition, you should consult your doctor for specific instructions on managing your condition.

How can I get a medical ID for my penicillin allergy? 

MedicAlert has a wide range of medical IDs including bracelets, necklaces and wallet cards. You can order an ID through our website, engraving it with the information needed to keep you or a loved one safe in a medical emergency. 

What should I engrave on an allergy alert medical ID?

MedicAlert offers free custom engraving on all our medical ID products. The engraving on your allergy medical ID should include any critical medical information that can protect and save your life if you are in an accident or have a medical emergency, including

  • Allergic to Penicillin or PCN
  • If you carry an EPI-PEN 
  • Any other allergies
  • Medical conditions
  • Medications you’re taking
  • Any additonal medical information that needs to be communicated to first responders.
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