Being diagnosed with a penicillin allergy isn’t an uncommon occurrence, but a new, simple outpatient skin test could determine whether someone really is allergic.

“About 10-20 percent of people have had a negative reaction with penicillin and that often gets reported as an allergy,” said Dr. Margaret Green, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Washington Medicine’s Northwest Hospital and Medical Center. “But these negative reactions, or adverse reactions, can be anywhere on a spectrum.”

To determine someone’s allergy, a simple outpatient test is performed. It’s done on the forearm and involves scratching a bit of skin. It tests for an anaphylactic reaction, which is the kind most people worry about.  

Green says the test is a good idea because people with a penicillin allergy have an increased risk of getting an infection at a surgical site. “If we have the ability, if it’s not an emergency surgery, test people and make sure the people who are listed before they have their surgery as having penicillin allergy truly do,” she said.

The hope is that patients can save money and get more effective medicines.

“The enthusiasm really comes from it opening the doors to being able to be treated with more effective, less expensive and narrower spectrum antibiotics in the future,” said Dr. Green.

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