Antibiotic desensitization in adults with cystic fibrosis

Respirology. 2003 Sep;8(3):359-64. doi: 10.1046/j.1440-1843.2003.00461.x.


Objective: Allergic reactions to antibiotics occur in up to 30% of patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). Repeated antibiotic exposure and immune hyper-responsiveness increase the risk of allergic reactions and may limit antibiotic choice. Desensitization may allow the successful administration of an antibiotic despite previous allergy. We aimed to determine the success of antibiotic desensitization in patients with CF in an adult CF unit over a 7-year period.

Methodology: A retrospective medical record review was performed on the 19 patients who had undergone antibiotic desensitization procedures. Data collected included drug allergy and intolerance profiles, nature of allergies, and the outcome of desensitization procedures. Desensitization procedures were performed in a ward setting according to published methods.

Results: Nineteen patients (13 females) reported 62 drug allergies with a mean of 3.3 per patient. Of the 71 desensitization procedures undergone by this group, 54 (76%) were successful. Fifteen of the 19 patients were allergic to two or more beta-lactam antibiotics. Over half of the patients were desensitized to more than one antibiotic. Nine different antibiotics were used in 31 different patient/drug combinations. A successful outcome was achieved in 18/31 (58%) combinations, with three requiring treatment for mild allergic reactions. Allergic reactions caused drug cessation in a total of 19 patient/drug combinations (three after initial successful desensitization and full courses of antibiotics). Over 50% of these reactions occurred on day 1. Desensitization failures were more common in patients with well-documented allergic reactions to a specific drug.

Conclusion: This study demonstrates that multiple antibiotic allergies are common in adults with CF. Cross-reactivity between beta-lactam antibiotics may limit antibiotic choice for the treatment of pulmonary exacerbations. Antibiotic desensitization allows safe and successful treatment in the ward setting of many patients with previous allergies to an antibiotic. In many patients symptoms of allergy still occur and result in cessation of the antibiotics. Use of corticosteroids and antihistamines may improve the success rate of desensitization procedures.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cystic Fibrosis / complications
  • Cystic Fibrosis / immunology*
  • Desensitization, Immunologic / methods*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Immunologic
  • Drug Hypersensitivity / complications
  • Drug Hypersensitivity / immunology
  • Drug Hypersensitivity / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Penicillins / adverse effects*
  • Penicillins / therapeutic use
  • Pseudomonas Infections / drug therapy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Skin Tests
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Penicillins