Pharmacists may know more about penicillin allergy than doctors

Study shows 78 percent of pharmacists knew penicillin allergy can resolve itself over time compared to 55 percent of physicians.
By Amy Wallace  |  June 13, 2017 at 11:07 AM
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June 13 (UPI) -- Although most pharmacists know penicillin allergies can resolve over time, a new study found that many doctors are not aware of that.

The study, by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, analyzed 276 surveys completed by non-allergist physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and pharmacists at Rochester Regional Health in Rochester, N.Y., and found more than 80 percent of the general practitioners surveyed knew a referral to an allergist for testing is recommended for a person with a reported penicillin allergy. Many physicians, though, had either never referred patients or had done so with only one patient a year.

The pharmacists surveyed seemed to have a better overall understanding of penicillin allergy, particularly that it can resolve over time.

"We were not surprised pharmacists understood the course of penicillin allergy better than other clinicians, given more extensive pharmacology education," Mary Staicu, infectious diseases pharmacist, said in a press release. "Of those surveyed, 78 percent of pharmacists knew penicillin allergy can resolve over time. Only 55 percent of the remaining respondents [non-allergist physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners] did. The survey also showed a limited understanding among internists and general practitioners regarding the large numbers of people who report penicillin allergy but have never been tested."

Roughly 10 to 20 percent of Americans report having a penicillin allergy, however, previous research shows that number to be only 10 percent with true penicillin allergies.

"Our research found a poor understanding of penicillin allergy among non-allergists," allergist Dr. Allison Ramsey said. "This was not a surprising finding given the clinical experience of most allergists, but it does provide an excellent opportunity for education on the topic - not just for patients, but for all health care professionals."

Penicillin allergies can resolve as a person ages, but many adults diagnosed as children have not been retested to see if they still have the allergy -- resulting in unnecessary avoidance in some cases.

People who report having a penicillin allergy are prescribed second-line antibiotics, which may have a higher risk of side effects and increased cost.

"More than 90 percent of people labeled with a penicillin allergy can tolerate penicillin-based antibiotics," Ramsey said. "Our survey showed only 30 percent of physician survey respondents knew that. It's important that doctors understand the importance of confirming penicillin allergy. But it's even more important that those who carry the label be educated and tested."

The study was published in the June edition of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

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