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Penicillin allergy - warning

(18 Posts)
veggie77 Sat 24-Nov-12 16:19:12

Hi. Just wanted to warn other ladies on here about what's just recently happenned to me. I'm currently recovering from a spell in hospital, where I was treated for an allergic reaction to penicillin. I had a urinary tract infection and sought treatment from my GP. Had them so many times before, but this is the first time I've had one whilst being pregnant (also my first baby). At 18 weeks pregnant, he said my options for clearing up the UTI with antibiotics were limited, and that I ought to try Amoxicillin. I previously had an allergic reaction to this 17 years ago at 18, when I had Glandular Fever at the same time. Apparently, taking Amoxicillin whilst having Glandular Fever will always result in an allergic rash. However, all these years, I have avoided taking any penicillin as most Drs I saw in that surgery didn't think I should attempt taking penicillin, just incase I genuinely was allergic, and it wasn't just the coincidence of Glandular Fever being present at the same time I had taken it aged 18.

Anyway, trying to condense the story a bit, but basically, my GP persuaded me to take Amoxicillin when my UTI was not clearing up after trying 2 different non-penicillin based antibiotics (Cefalaxin initially, then Trimethoprim when that didn't work). After being in pain with a UTI for 10 days and a week off work with it, I relented and agreed to try Amoxicillin as the GP said nothing else could be prescribed for me.

This was infact wrong. According to the antenatal unit midwives and obstetrician, I could have tried something called Nitrafurantoid, which is safe after 12 weeks. Had he done some further research, and not just gone by what was in the British National Formulary on antibiotics in pregnancy, or whatever NHS advice he had on his system, then I would have been saved an admission to hospital for a severe allergic reaction to Amoxicillin.

The whole exprience has been very traumatic. I got so poorly from the allergic rash, that I was taken into hospital by ambulance because my blood pressure was so low, that I couldn't stand up without passing out. I was given steroids intravenously and kept in the antenatal unit overnight for observations, where they tested me for kidney & liver function, and checked the baby regularly. It has taken over a week for the incredibly itchy rash to fade - which covered 90% of my body. The dermatologist said it was a moderate to severe allergic reaction to penicillin, and told me if I ever take it again then it could be life threatening as my reaction could be much worse, and I could stop breathing.

I am still recovering now - 2 weeks on from first taking the first Amoxicillin. Skin is falling off my face & neck and I still cannot stand up for any longer than to go to the toilet. I will be off work for another 2 weeks and need to sit with my legs out infront of me, due to the burst blood vessels in my legs and general faintness from shock.

My words of warning to other pregnant ladies are this:
1. If your GP seems unsure of what to prescribe you, and your gut feeling is that they want to give you something you are uncomfortable with - do check it out with your midwife and or the antenatal unit. The obstetricians and midwives at the hospital knew that it was safe to give me other antibiotics and also antihistamines to help recover from the allergic response. My GP didn't even think he could give me antihistamines to control the rash, so it escalated more than it needed to and led to me being hospitalised.
2. Do your own research on medication before visiting the GP - the midwives at the hospital told me that GPs often feel unsure of what to give pregnant women and err on the side of caution, leaving you in pain / hoping stuff will go away, rather than give you something that they're not sure about. Apparently we should insist on treatment and ask that they clarify anything vague with midwives. They all refer to the British National Formulary for medicines/pharmacies, and although this is a reference for them, it can be open to interpretation.

Hope no one else goes through this. Do stand your ground if you think you have an allergy and a GP is trying to get you to take something you feel uncomfortable taking. And if you happen to be in the same circumstances as me - i.e. had a reaction to penicillin when you happenned to have Glandular Fever last time, and so an allergic reaction could never be ruled out or ruled in, then do be warned - I definitely have an allergy to penicillin after all!!!!

Not a well bunny now, but I am hoping this message reaches other mums to be on here and that they can avoid this happenning to them - then at least some good has come out of a terribly mismanaged situation!!!

pepperrabbit Sat 24-Nov-12 16:25:17

You poor thing, how frightening.
I've been "allergic" to penicillin since I was tiny but every single time I tell a medic they query this and ask what happens, as if I'm making it up hmm
Now, i don't know, perhaps lots of people pretend to be allergic to something?
All I can remember is not being able to stand up, I was 6 or so.
And funnily enough, whenever I am ill enough for someone to want to prescribe penicillin, I'm not in the mood to experiment with it!

amillionyears Sat 24-Nov-12 16:33:52

Thanks for writing that.

One of my DSs is allergic to pencillin.
In his case he came out in spots literally from head to toe, a couple of days after being given pencillin to clear up something else. So they just swapped to something else and he was fine. [he has other allergies, so nobody was too surprised in his case.]

Hope you get well soon veggie77.

amillionyears Sat 24-Nov-12 16:35:50

Had another thought.
Do your wear or carry an sos necklace or bracelet.
DS is allergic to the chain but not the pendant on that too, so we had to change the original chain

bonzo77 Sat 24-Nov-12 16:41:36

OP I think you're right to warn people about this. It is however true that glandular fever + amoxicillin can cause a (non allergic) rash, and this rash is not in itself an indication of allergy. However, I don't think pregnancy is a good time to find out!

With regards to the PP who was a little hmm about being double checked about allergies: a true allergy resulting in rash and eventually anaphylaxis is of course serious. But has to be differentiated from what is often called an "allergy" but is actually a side effect eg nausea with erythromycin. Unpleasant but not a reason to avoid it.

OP I'm sorry that you had such a rotten time. Have you considered getting a medical alert bracelet stating your allergy? It could be a life saver if ever you are in a position that you can't speak for yourself.

mrswee Sat 24-Nov-12 16:41:53

I had a suspected reaction to Amoxicillin when I was about 20. I am pregnant and a locum doctor at my surgery tried to poo poo the fact and give me a penicillan based antibiotic to clear up a suspected UTI. I thought it was really irresposible of this doctor as if I hadn't been so insistant and knowlegable about what was right ofr me she would have just prescribed it to me.

ivykaty44 Sat 24-Nov-12 16:49:03

my dd1 is allergic to penicillin, when in a&e one time I was asked what her reaction to the drug was and I told the doctor she comes out in a rash all over and swells - oh he said - then he explained that a lot of people say they are allergic when really they mean they don't like the side effects of the drugs and are not allergic at all.

Op I hope the rest of your pg goes much better

pepperrabbit Sat 24-Nov-12 16:53:46

I'm wondering if I can be tested in some way when I'm well (though I never even think about it then of course!)
bonzo I guess I'm wondering if lots of people think they're allergic rather than intolerant? Like with food issues sometimes people end up avoiding something cos they fear anaphylaxis but actually it might just make them feel rough? Does that make sense?!
I'm recovering from a vicious episode of pneumonia and from what I understand may not have been as poorly as I was if I could have had penicillin early on, had to have clarithromycin and then was readmitted to hospital and needed a whopping dose of levofloxacin to get rid of it. I'm just about to start my 6th week off sick, still breathless and exhausted - given I was completely healthy -and in the office! - less than maybe 8 hours before I was unable even to get out of bed.

kate2boysandabump Sat 24-Nov-12 16:56:08

I had a similar reaction to penicillin when I was 3. It is clearly in my notes ad an allergy. Cannot believe doctor was willing to risk it.

I hope you feel better soon OP and enjoy the test of your pregnancy.

inadreamworld Sat 24-Nov-12 17:47:10

Poor you I hope you start to feel better soon.

This might be a stupid question but how would I know if I was allergic to penicillin? I have had a general anaesthetic when a small child (for an eye operation) and I was OK. I also had an epidural when in labour with no probs. Would this mean I have had penicillin with no ill effects?

bonzo77 Sat 24-Nov-12 18:28:42

inadream. I don't think penicillin is given routinely with general anaesthetics or epidurals. Penicillin is given usually to treat an infection (ear, sinus, skin, dental). Occasionally to prevent an infection (eg for certain dental procedures, after an animal bite). Chances are if you've had antibiotics you will have had some kind of penicillin. The good news is the reaction gets worse each time you take them, often with no reaction the first time, and the first reaction usually being fairly mild though distinctive. This gives you plenty of time to work out what is happening. The reaction is classically a rash with itching, later swelling of lips and tongue, and spreading to involve the throat. Which is when it gets very serious. Depending on severity, if you get rash: take antihistamines and monitor and see your GP,
swelling of lips / tongue: go to a&e,
difficulty swallowing or breathing: call 999. In all cases stop taking the antibiotics.

amillionyears Sat 24-Nov-12 18:56:23

bonzo are you medical?
My DS has epipens and pills because of allergies
If he were to have penicillin and not realise it and get a reaction, would he be best advised to take the pills and use the epipen?

Runswithsquirrels Sat 24-Nov-12 19:13:35

Thank you for this. I had a similar reaction to penicillin when I had glandular fever and have avoided it ever since. I'll be sure to keep avoiding it! I hope you feel better soon!

bonzo77 Sat 24-Nov-12 20:41:19

amillion. Sort of medical, I'm a dentist. I wouldn't use someone else's medication. Chances are that your first reaction (1 think i said this in my last post) won't be the sort that needs an epipen. Even an anaphylactic reaction can take time to develop. Using someone else's epipen means they might not have it when they need it. Also it's really not a nice medication to take: it can make you feel very shakey and make your heart race like crazy. Certainly the correct treatment for anaphylaxis is adrenaline which is what Iain the pens.

bonzo77 Sat 24-Nov-12 20:56:27

iain hmm is in

inadreamworld Sat 24-Nov-12 22:49:40

bonzo - thanks - not sure if I have ever had antibiotics as my Mum is a natural health freak and didn't think I should have them if ill as a child and have def never had them as an adult.....anyway will heed warning about penicillin, interesting.

threepiecesuite Sat 24-Nov-12 22:58:38

I had a reaction to Erythromycin in two separate episodes, both times I started vomiting violently within 20 minutes of taking it. Doctor wrote 'allergic to penicillin' in my notes.
When admitted to hospital three times during pregnancy, and also for labour, I had a flourescent yellow wristband with 'allergic to penicillin'. I'm glad to have seen them taking my doctor's advice seriously but I'm not sure I'm actually allergic.

bonzo77 Sun 25-Nov-12 00:21:25

threepiece that's worrying. Especially as penicillin is totally different to erythromycin. Erythromycin is one of the alternatives for people allergic to penicillin. So your records don't reflect what actually disagreed with you, and instead deny you access to a useful alternative to the drug that made you ill!

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