Conference Coverage

Anxiety, depression compromise believability of drug-allergy testing



– Less than 4% of people who undergo drug-allergy testing are positive and need to avoid the drug in the future, but many patients who undergo drug-allergy testing and have a negative result cling to their allergic status and struggle with letting go.

Dr. Christine Rukasin, division of allergy and immunology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville Mitchel L. Zoler/MDedge News

Dr. Christine Rukasin

New findings suggest that preexisting anxiety or depression plays a role in some people who refuse to believe a negative drug-allergy result, which suggests that these people may need a more tailored intervention to drug-allergy testing and its aftermath, including some type of behavioral intervention.

“Underlying anxiety and depression may reduce the effectiveness of negative drug-allergy evaluation and functional delabeling,” Christine Rukasin, MD, said while presenting a poster at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. “In the future, tailored drug-allergy evaluation, behavioral interventions, targeted follow-up communication, and patient education appear necessary to improve the sustained effectiveness of a negative drug-allergy and functional delabeling,” said Dr. Rukasin, an allergy immunology physician at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

The results showed that some people who undergo drug allergy testing “have a high anxiety state and don’t feel comfortable regardless of their test result,” she said in an interview. “This is not where one size fits all. We usually perform a single, oral drug challenge and then pronounce the person free of allergy if the result was negative. We need to better anticipate how effective a drug evaluation will be for someone; will they believe the result?” Individual patients, especially those with diagnosed anxiety or depression, may need multiple challenge tests, both oral and skin, before they believe a negative result, and they may also need referral to a behavioral health specialist, she said.

Dr. Rukasin and her associates ran their study with 100 people who underwent assessment at the Vanderbilt drug-allergy clinic and completed a set of questionnaires. The range of suspected drug allergies included 40% with a suspected reaction to penicillin, 22% to a sulfa-containing drug, 17% to a cephalosporin, 8% to another antibiotic, 7% to an NSAID, and the remainder to other drugs. The 100 participants included 57 people without diagnosed anxiety or depression, 31 diagnosed with anxiety, and 33 diagnosed with depression; some patients had diagnoses for both anxiety and depression.

The questionnaire results from before and after drug-allergy testing showed an apparent association between anxiety, depression, and a decreased willingness to believe the results of a negative drug-allergy test. For example, when posed with the prospect of finding out they were not allergic to the tested drug, 24% of the people with anxiety and 20% of those with depression said that they still would not take the medication if it were prescribed to them, compared with 7% of those without anxiety or depression who gave this response.

Many patients who come to the drug-allergy clinic are scared and worried. “We want to dig deeper, to better help these patients,” Dr. Rukasin said. This is the first reported study to evaluate anxiety in the setting of drug-allergy testing. Further insight into ways to improve the effectiveness of drug-allergy testing hopefully will come from additional analysis of the findings.

Dr. Rukasin had no relevant financial disclosures.

SOURCE: Rukasin C et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2019 Feb;143(2):AB428.

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