I decided to get test for my penicillin allergy today. Ever since I can remember, my mom had told me that I was allergic to penicillin, as I had had it when I caught pneumonia as an infant and stopped breathing as a reaction to it. But over the past year when my mom was in and out of the hospital, an allergy to penicillin was listed on her records and I started thinking, was she confusing the two of us? Was she the one allergic or maybe she wasn't and she was thinking of me.
Also, I read a recent article in the NYTimes that said that 90% of the people who believe they have a penicillin allergy, are not, either because they grow out of it or because the allergy may have been to the delivery vehicle, rather than the actual medicine. So I decided I wanted to know for sure.
On my initial consult to the allergist, he was pretty certain that I would end up not being allergic since it had been 50 years since I had a reaction. I started to feel a bit defensive...my mom was very descriptive in how I reacted (turning blue and not breathing) plus my doctor at the time was very good: my mother spoke of how he came and visited me everyday when I was ill. My mom had lost an earlier child to pneumonia and almost had a nervous breakdown caring for me day and night.
For the actual testing, I went to the office today at 10am. They said to plan on being there for 4 to 5 hours of testing. So off I went this morning, packing a lunch, books, iPad, knitting, ready to be there for the duration. As I was driving to the office, I was thinking that of course, I'd rather not have the allergy, but part of me wanted to prove the new allergist wrong, and have my mom's caution validated.
During the first test, they put small drops of various strains of penicillin, highly diluted, onto my forearm and then poke a small hole or slight abrasion and rub the medicine into the opened skin. They also do this with a histamine, as the control reaction. Well, my arm itched like hell, but it was only the reaction to the histamine, which did produce a hive. So far, so good, no reaction at the other sites.
Next test, they went to my upper arm and inject the same diluted penicillin strains.This hurt! It was basically getting six small shots. Now after each of these tests, the nurse leaves the room for about 20 minutes. I'm thinking, what if I start having a strong reaction while she is out of the room. She was at a station just outside, so I guess she would hear me keel over or start to thrash!
I couldn't see the injection spots for the second test as they were on the back of my upper arm. I didn't feel too much, though that portion of my arm felt kind of tired, that's the best description I can come up with. Well, she returned after 20 minutes and said, "oh my, you ARE allergic to penicillin!". I had nicely formed hives at the injection sites.
Seems my mom and Doctor Nicholas were right! So I need to dig out my medic alert bracelet and continue to stay away for any penicillin related antibiotics. The good news is that I didn't have to spend 5 hour at the doctor's office, and my mom was right (though who knows if she herself really was allergic); bad news is I am still allergic. It feels good to know though.