Diagnostic evaluation of a large group of patients with immediate allergy to penicillins: the role of skin testing

Allergy. 2001 Sep;56(9):850-6. doi: 10.1034/j.1398-9995.2001.00089.x.


Background: Penicillin is no longer the most commonly prescribed beta-lactam, and the pattern of reactions has changed. We studied the diagnostic value of skin testing in penicillin-allergic subjects from a population where benzylpenicillin is not now the most frequently used beta-lactam.

Methods: Patients with a history of immediate allergic reactions to penicillins were studied with: skin tests with major and minor determinants of benzylpenicillin (BPO/MDM), amoxicillin, and ampicillin; in vitro determination of specific IgE; and controlled administration for those with a positive history but negative skin and in vitro tests. A reaction was considered immediate when symptoms appeared within a maximum of 1 h after drug intake.

Results: After testing, 290 patients (71% having anaphylaxis and 29% having urticaria) proved to be allergic. Amoxicillin was involved in 64.8% and benzylpenicillin in 2.8% of the patients. Skin test positivity to at least one determinant appeared in 70% of cases, amoxicillin being the most frequent. The overall sensitivity decreased markedly when only BPO and MDM were considered. In 13.1% of patients, the diagnosis was established by in vitro test and in 16.9% by controlled administration. Of the 290 patients, 42.1% were positive to determinants generated from benzylpenicillin and 57.9% were selective responders.

Conclusions: Sensitivity of skin tests to BPO was lower than reported, being partly replaced by minor determinants, mostly amoxicillin. The incorporation of additional reagents and the development of new tests are required, and these will probably change as the patterns of consumption vary.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Amoxicillin / adverse effects
  • Ampicillin / adverse effects
  • Anaphylaxis / chemically induced
  • Drug Hypersensitivity / diagnosis
  • Drug Hypersensitivity / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / chemically induced*
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / diagnosis*
  • Male
  • Penicillins / adverse effects*
  • Radioallergosorbent Test
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Skin Tests
  • Time Factors
  • Urticaria / chemically induced


  • Penicillins
  • Ampicillin
  • Amoxicillin