Allergy to betalactam antibiotics in children: results of a 20-year study based on clinical history, skin and challenge tests


Claude Ponvert, M.D, Sci.D, Department Paediatrics, Pulmonology, Allergy and Dermatology Unit, Paris Descartes University, Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital, 149 rue de Sèvres, 75015 Paris, France
Tel.: +33 01 44 49 47 66
Fax: +33 01 44 38 17 40


To cite this article: Ponvert C, Perrin Y, Bados-Albiero A, Le Bourgeois M, Karila C, Delacourt C, Scheinmann P, De Blic J. Allergy to betalactam antibiotics in children: results of a 20-year study based on clinical history, skin and challenge tests. Pediatr Allergy Immunol 2011; 22: 411–418.


Studies based on skin and challenge tests have shown that 12–60% of children with suspected betalactam hypersensitivity were allergic to betalactams. Responses in skin and challenge tests were studied in 1865 children with suspected betalactam allergy (i) to confirm or rule out the suspected diagnosis; (ii) to evaluate diagnostic value of immediate and non-immediate responses in skin and challenge tests; (iii) to determine frequency of betalactam allergy in those children, and (iv) to determine potential risk factors for betalactam allergy. The work-up was completed in 1431 children, of whom 227 (15.9%) were diagnosed allergic to betalactams. Betalactam hypersensitivity was diagnosed in 50 of the 162 (30.9%) children reporting immediate reactions and in 177 of the 1087 (16.7%) children reporting non-immediate reactions (p < 0.001). The likelihood of betalactam hypersensitivity was also significantly higher in children reporting anaphylaxis, serum sickness-like reactions, and (potentially) severe skin reactions such as acute generalized exanthematic pustulosis, Stevens–Johnson syndrome, and drug reaction with systemic symptoms than in other children (p < 0.001). Skin tests diagnosed 86% of immediate and 31.6% of non-immediate sensitizations. Cross-reactivity and/or cosensitization among betalactams was diagnosed in 76% and 14.7% of the children with immediate and non-immediate hypersensitivity, respectively. The number of children diagnosed allergic to betalactams decreased with time between the reaction and the work-up, probably because the majority of children with severe and worrying reactions were referred for allergological work-up more promptly than the other children. Sex, age, and atopy were not risk factors for betalactam hypersensitivity. In conclusion, we confirm in numerous children that (i) only a few children with suspected betalactam hypersensitivity are allergic to betalactams; (ii) the likelihood of betalactam allergy increases with earliness and/or severity of the reactions; (iii) although non-immediate-reading skin tests (intradermal and patch tests) may diagnose non-immediate sensitizations in children with non-immediate reactions to betalactams (maculopapular rashes and potentially severe skin reactions especially), the diagnostic value of non-immediate-reading skin tests is far lower than the diagnostic value of immediate-reading skin tests, most non-immediate sensitizations to betalactams being diagnosed by means of challenge tests; (iv) cross-reactivity and/or cosensitizations among betalactams are much more frequent in children reporting immediate and/or anaphylactic reactions than in the other children; (v) age, sex and personal atopy are not significant risk factors for betalactam hypersensitivity; and (vi) the number of children with diagnosed allergy to betalactams (of the immediate-type hypersensitivity especially) decreases with time between the reaction and allergological work-up. Finally, based on our experience, we also propose a practical diagnostic approach in children with suspected betalactam hypersensitivity.