Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Allergy to penicillin: fable or fact?

British Medical Journal 1991; 302 doi: (Published 04 May 1991) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1991;302:1051
  1. S J Surtees,
  2. M G Stockton,
  3. T W Gietzen
  1. Clinical Chemistry Department, District General Hospital, Eastbourne, East Sussex.


    OBJECTIVE--To assess whether, on the basis of one blood test, penicillin allergy might be excluded sufficiently for general practitioners to give oral penicillin to patients claiming a history of penicillin allergy. DESIGN--Prospective study of patients referred by general practitioners. SETTING--Outpatient allergy clinic in a district general hospital. PATIENTS--175 referred patients who gave a history of immediate type reaction to penicillin, of whom 144 attended as requested and 132 completed the investigations. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--History and examination, serum radioallergosorbent test to phenoxymethylpenicillin and benzylpenicillin, and oral challenge with penicillin. RESULTS--Of 132 patients, four were confirmed to have penicillin allergy by the radioallergosorbent test and 128 had an oral penicillin challenge without ill effect. CONCLUSIONS--Most patients who gave a history of penicillin allergy are not so allergic, and their actual allergic state should be substantiated whenever feasible. For patients reporting minor or vague reactions negative findings with a radioallergosorbent test to phenoxymethylpenicillin and benzylpenicillin provide sufficient evidence to give oral penicillin safely.