Allergies Penicillin

Penicillin is a type of antibiotic that is used to treat a wide variety of infections, including pneumonia, ear infections, blood infections, and heart valve infections. This medication is very effective, but it can cause serious problems if you’re allergic to it.

About Penicillin Allergies
A penicillin allergy is more common in some people than others. For instance, those who are allergic to other medications, have a family history of medication allergies, or have taken a lot of medications in their lives are more likely to develop a penicillin allergy.

“The kind of penicillin allergy we worry most about is the kind that can cause anaphylaxis,” says Anna Feldweg, MD, a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and attending physician in allergy and immunology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Those types of reactions are IgE-related.”

IgE, or immunoglobulin E, is an antibody found in the body that mediates allergic reactions. When an allergen — a substance such as penicillin that can trigger an allergic reaction — enters the body, the immune system produces IgE. The IgE then travels through the body and coats a type of allergy cell called mast cells. “[IgE] sits on the surface of the mast cells and waits,” explains Dr. Feldweg. “When the person receives the drug again, they can have a sudden-onset reaction.” And this sudden reaction can include anaphylaxis.

According to Feldweg, symptoms of anaphylaxis may include:

  • Itching
  • Flushing
  • Hives (raised patches on the skin that are extremely itchy)
  • Swelling of the lips, face, and/or throat
  • Wheezing
  • Stomach or bowel symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea)
  • Low blood pressure symptoms (dizziness, lightheadedness)

Dealing With a Penicillin Allergy
If you suspect you have a penicillin allergy, you should talk with an allergist and undergo skin testing. Even if your symptoms were mild in your first reaction, a future reaction could be more severe.

“We skin-test [patients with a suspected penicillin allergy], and if they get a raised itchy bump on the skin, which is like a tiny version of that reaction, it means they are allergic to that substance,” says Feldweg.

If you have a penicillin allergy, you will need to avoid the medication whenever possible. If you need to take an antibiotic, your doctor can recommend one that is safe for you.

For certain heart or blood infections, however, your condition will respond better to penicillin than anything else, adds Feldweg. If this is the case, an allergist can desensitize you to penicillin by gradually exposing you to increasing doses of the antibiotic. Desensitization is only temporary, allowing you to receive one course of treatment safely. It is therefore important to take your medication without skipping doses, because once the penicillin has cleared from your system, you will be allergic to it again.

For most people, penicillin is a safe, effective antibiotic for many infections. However, for people with a penicillin allergy, it can be dangerous. If you suspect an allergy, talk to your doctor and take precautions to prevent a life-threatening reaction.

The Sting of an Insect Allergy

Though most people can tolerate an insect sting pretty well, others may have a severe allergic reaction. If you are sensitive to stinging insects, stay away from them and be prepared, should they find you.
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On nice days, people gravitate outdoors to soak in sunshine and fresh air. The occasional sting from a bee, wasp, hornet, yellow jacket, or fire ant is nothing more than a nuisance — unless you have an insect allergy.

For most people, the pain, itching, redness, and mild swelling around the area of the sting usually go away within a few hours. But for an estimated two million Americans who have an insect allergy, the threat of running into a stinging insect can be frightening enough to keep them indoors.

What Is an Insect Allergy?

An insect allergy develops because your immune system overreacts to an insect sting. The first time you are stung, your body produces a protein known as immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody, specific to the venom that was injected when the insect stung you. If you are stung again by the same kind of insect, the venom will react with the IgE and activate the release of histamine and other chemicals, launching an allergic reaction.

A serious insect allergy can result in a life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis, which can affect your whole body. If you have had a relatively severe local reaction to an insect sting (for example, a larger area of swelling around the sting that persists for days or weeks), you may be sensitized to the insect venom and at risk of an anaphylactic reaction if you are stung again.

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical treatment. You should contact emergency personnel if you have symptoms of anaphylaxis, which may include:

Widespread hives
Severe itching and swelling of the entire body
Chest tightness
Problems breathing
Swollen tongue or throat, or both
Dizziness
Fainting
Stomach cramps
Nausea
Diarrhea
Decreased blood pressure
Cardiac arrest

Prevention and Treatment of an Insect Allergy Reaction

Talk to your doctor if you suspect you may have an insect allergy. Your doctor can refer you to an allergist or immunologist, who can diagnose your condition, talk to you about insect sting prevention, recommend treatment options, and teach you what to do if you get stung.

The best way to prevent an allergic reaction to an insect sting is to avoid getting stung in the first place. You can help prevent insect stings by:

Learning what stinging insects look like (for example, yellow jackets, honeybees, paper wasps, hornets, and fire ants) and avoiding them
Knowing where stinging insects reside (for example, in walls, hollow trees, nests, hives)
Hiring a trained exterminator to destroy hives and nests around your home
Remaining calm when you see a stinging insect, while moving slowly away
Avoiding wearing brightly colored clothing or perfume when outdoors, which can attract a stinging insect
Taking care when eating or drinking soda or juice outside
Wearing closed toe shoes outdoors
Not wearing loose-fitting clothing when outdoors

After you are diagnosed with an insect sting allergy, your allergist or immunologist may recommend allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots) to help desensitize you to insect venom. Immunotherapy for an insect sting allergy involves receiving increasingly stronger injections of insect venom over time, until your body becomes less sensitive to the venom.

It is also important that you carry self-injectable epinephrine with you at all times, which can be used as a short-term treatment in the case of an anaphylactic-type reaction. Your doctor will teach you how to administer the injection. Even if your symptoms subside after the injection, you will need to go to the emergency room immediately, since you may need further treatment.

So go ahead, enjoy the outdoors, but be prepared for a chance encounter with life’s smaller inhabitants.

Vaccine Allergy A Closer Look

If you’ve had reactions from eggs or gelatin, you may be allergic to routine vaccines. Learn how to minimize the reaction.
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A vaccine allergy is an extremely rare type of allergy, with only one to two serious allergic reactions being reported per million vaccinations given. But when a vaccine allergy does occur, it can be very serious, even life-threatening.
What Is a Vaccine Allergy?

Researchers believe that most people who have a vaccine allergy have an allergic sensitivity to one of two common vaccine ingredients: gelatin or egg protein.

Gelatin is used to help preserve viral components of the following vaccines:

Diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis /DTaP (Tripedia)
Influenza (Fluzone, Flumist)
Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR II, Priorix)
Measles (Attenuvax)
Mumps (Mumpsvax)
Rubella (Meruvax II)
Rabies (Rabavert)
Shingles (Zostavax)
Varicella (Varivax)

Egg proteins are used to produce some vaccines including:

Influenza
Measles, mumps, and rubella
Yellow fever

If you are allergic to eggs, or have had an allergic reaction after eating a gelatin-containing food, you are at higher risk of having a vaccine allergy.
Symptoms of a Vaccine Allergy

Symptoms of a severe vaccine allergy may include:

Problems breathing
Weakness
Dizziness
Wheezing
Coughing
Vomiting
Diarrhea
Low blood pressure
Increased heart rate
Hives
Pale skin
Throat swelling

These symptoms usually come on quickly, within a few minutes or a few hours after receiving the vaccination. They are signs of anaphylaxis, which is a serious, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. If you, or anyone around you, experiences signs of anaphylaxis, contact emergency medical personnel immediately.

Other common reactions to vaccines, such as fever, pain, swelling, or redness at the injection site, or a mild rash, usually come on later and are usually not serious. But contact your doctor if you have any worrisome symptoms after receiving a vaccination.
Managing a Vaccine Allergy

Since people with a vaccine allergy become sensitized after being exposed to the allergen the first time, they are at high risk for future allergic reactions to vaccines. Subsequent allergic reactions to vaccines are usually more serious than the first.

Talk with your doctor if you have had symptoms of an allergic reaction after a vaccination, or if you are concerned that you may be at risk of having an allergic reaction from a vaccine. An allergist or immunologist may perform a skin prick or blood test to determine if you have a vaccine-associated allergy.

People who have a vaccine allergy can usually still get their recommended vaccinations. Methods for giving vaccinations to people with a vaccine allergy may involve:

Using an alternative form of the vaccine that you are not allergic to
Taking antihistamine or corticosteroid medications before your vaccination to help prevent or decrease an allergic reaction
Getting vaccinated under the supervision of your doctor in the presence of lifesaving medical equipment (for example, at an equipped clinic or hospital)
Testing for immunity to the disease being vaccinated against, and forgoing the vaccination if you already have immunity

Vaccinations are important for your health and the health of those around you. If you are concerned about a vaccine allergy, talk with your doctor, who can recommend a vaccination schedule that will be safe and effective for you.

What Is a Drug Allergy?

Many people report having drug allergies when they’ve really experienced an adverse drug reaction. Learn the differences between the two.
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While an allergy usually isn’t much more than a nuisance, a serious one can potentially lead to a life-threatening situation. When the allergen is a medication, the situation can be especially critical. Still, people who are allergic to certain medications have options. They can manage the symptoms caused by adverse reactions, avoid the symptoms altogether by taking a different drug, or work with an allergist to desensitize themselves to drugs that trip their immune systems’ triggers.
Drug Allergy: The Basics

A drug allergy occurs when a person’s immune system responds to a medication or drug as a foreign substance, causing a reaction, including skin irritations (rashes or hives), breathing problems, swelling, and intestinal pain. Adverse drug reactions (ADRs) often occur when people take too much of a medicine, or when one medication they are taking reacts with another drug in their system. ADRs usually subside and sufferers begin to feel better 24 to 48 hours after discontinuing the medication.

“Most people experience adverse reactions at some point, but there are far fewer true allergic reactions,” says Jerry Schier, MD, a board-certified allergist, assistant clinical professor, George Washington University School of Medicine.

While ADRs and allergic reactions are more annoying than they are serious, rare-but-serious reactions can include loss of consciousness and anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic response that may include abdominal cramping, dizziness, fainting, breathing difficulty and vomiting, among other symptoms.

Some of most common ADRs and drug allergies occur in response to these groups of medicines:

Antibiotics
Aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs, such as ibuprofen
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors

Women have more allergic reactions than men do, and infants and the elderly have fewer allergic reactions than the general population. But, Dr. Schier says, “You can develop a drug allergy at any time in your life.”
Drug Allergy: Management and Treatment Options

In case of an allergic reaction or ADR, stop taking the medication immediately, and be prepared to find a medical facility fast, in case the reaction becomes serious.

Lesser symptoms can usually be treated with antihistamines, which reduce itching and swelling, and corticosteroids, which reduce swelling and inflammation.
Drug Allergy: Preventing Problems

Some people with drug allergy can benefit from desensitization, when a patient (in a hospital or doctor’s office, under the supervision of an allergist) ingests a small amount of the potential allergen in order to reduce the body’s allergic response to the medicine.

To avoid problems, patients should give their prescribing physician or pharmacist a detailed listing of all of the medications they take, both prescription and over-the-counter (including vitamins and other supplements).

When a new medicine is introduced, patients must understand and follow all drug dosage instructions carefully. Any unusual reaction should be reported to the prescribing physician or other health care professional immediately.

“Probably the biggest problem with drug allergy is the documentation,” Schier says. “I absolutely love patients who come in with a list of everything they’re on and a detailed list of what happened when they took (the offending drug).”

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology suggests logging when the medicine was taken, when symptoms began, how long the symptoms lasted, and any other medicines that were taken during the same period of time.

Even if you did not have a true drug allergy, this information will help you and your doctor understand what happened should a problem or unusual reaction occur. In addition, this information will be critical in helping you and your doctor figure out how to prevent it from happening in the future.