Chlorhexidine generally has a good safety profile. However, allergic reactions are reported with increasing frequency. In China, it is rarely reported, and its characteristics are unknown. The purpose of this study was to summarize the experience of a Chinese allergy center with chlorhexidine allergy.


The authors retrospectively reviewed all patients who underwent chlorhexidine allergy testing in the Allergy Center of West China Hospital, Sichuan University (Chengdu, China), in the period February 2018 to May 2022 (n = 43 patients) and included the patients diagnosed with chlorhexidine allergy for analysis.


Ten patients who were diagnosed by skin prick and serum-specific immunoglobulin E tests were included. They experienced a total of 30 allergic reactions to chlorhexidine (mean ± SD, 3.0 ± 1.3). Five patients experienced six allergic reactions (6 of 30, 20%) during general or local anesthesia, and they may have been exposed to chlorhexidine via different routes. Only one allergic reaction (1 of 30, 3%) was recorded with exposure via a mouthwash. The other 23 allergic reactions (23 of 30, 77%) were caused via a skin disinfectant; the route of exposure was IV cannulation in 22 allergic reactions (22 of 23, 96%) and broken skin in one allergic reaction (1 of 23, 4%). The symptoms included a quick onset and great severity. Two patients (2 of 10, 20%) had been accidentally re-exposed to chlorhexidine after diagnosis.


This study conducted in China showed that the majority of reactions to chlorhexidine were attributed to skin disinfectants, and IV cannulation was the most common exposure route; in general, however, chlorhexidine allergy was easily overlooked. The potential allergenicity of chlorhexidine used for skin preparation before IV cannulation or should be considered in patients who develop allergic reactions perioperatively.

Editor’s Perspective
What We Already Know about This Topic
  • Chlorhexidine, a topical antibacterial agent, is widely used perioperatively, and can cause allergic reactions including anaphylaxis. In some countries, it may not be frequently recognized as the culprit agent responsible for perioperative hypersensitivity.
What This Article Tells Us That Is New
  • In a study from China, most allergic reactions to chlorhexidine were due to skin disinfectant for vascular cannulation and occurred repeatedly in most patients before it was recognized. This report further emphasizes the need for awareness of the potential allergenicity of chlorhexidine in a perioperative setting or after vascular cannulation.