Antibiotics accounted for 7 of the top 14 drug classes patients are allergic to, according to a new study of electronic health records (EHR) published in the journal Allergy. Of antibiotic classes, penicillin allergies were most prevalent, followed by allergies to sulfonamide. The new study sheds light on EHR allergy documentation, of which, minimal research has been conducted.

The researchers took the EHR data from the Partners HealthCare System, a healthcare delivery network composed of multiple community and specialty hospitals as well as community health centers. Stat analyses were conducted using SAS statistical software and chi-square tests were used to compare prevalence rates across patient groups, while t-tests were used to compare means.

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A total of 1,766,328 patients were included in the study (1,023,824 female, and 742,374 male). More allergies were displayed among female patients. For antibiotics 15.2% of women reported allergies compared to 9.5% of men; for NSAIDs 4.4% of women compare to 2.3% of men reported allergies. Allergies to statins were shown to double from 1.5% in 2003 to 3.4% in 2013.

Patients who were white reported a significantly greater amount of allergies than other racial groups, particularly with penicillins (14.3% in whites vs. 7.9% in non-whites, p< 0.01), sulfonamide antibiotics (8.7% vs. 2.9%, p< 0.01), and opiates (8.1% vs. 2.9%, p< .01). Black patients were more likely to be allergic to NSAIDs than other racial groups (4.0% in blacks vs. 3.5% in non-blacks, p<0.01); ACE inhibitors and thiazide diuretics also had slightly higher allergy rates in black patients.

Previous studies (Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2012;108(2):88-93) have reported 20–25% of the population with at least one allergy, while this study reported at least one-third of its participants to have at least one allergy. The study’s authors conclude: “The increasing number of reported drug allergies to some of these commonly reported drugs may be due to an increased exposure and usage over time. Clinicians should be wary of this, especially in female and white patients, as many of these commonly reported drugs are the foundation of modern-day medical therapies.”

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