Beware of Spice Allergies, Especially During Holiday Season

By Kristen Chandler

Spice Allergies, Especially Around the Holidays

Spice allergies account for about 2 percent of food allergies, based on information provided by the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). Allergies to spices are difficult to determine because there are so many of them, so spice-related allergy tests are often not reliable. A lot of spice allergies are detected when someone has multiple allergic reactions to various foods, and a spice or spices are the only common denominator. Another indicator is if you have a reaction to a packaged food or a dish in a restaurant but do not react to that same dish when you prepare it yourself. If you suspect that you or your child may have a spice allergy, talk to your doctor. They may suggest allergy testing, but often spice allergies can be determined through an elimination diet.

Cinnamon and garlic seem to be the most common allergens as far as spices are concerned, but other spices have been known to cause reactions as well. Symptoms of a spice allergy can include, but are not limited to, a runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, hives, respiratory symptoms, gastrointestinal symptoms and even anaphylaxis.

My youngest child suffered from an allergy to cinnamon when she was younger, but we recently discovered that she has outgrown it. So, I know firsthand that as difficult as spice allergies are to diagnose, they are just as difficult to avoid. Spices are included in numerous foods but can be found in other products, like cosmetics. And often, spices are not listed individually on food labels. Oftentimes the label will simply read “herbs and spices.”

The holiday season is a particularly difficult time for people who have spice allergies. From Thanksgiving dinner to Christmas meals, and every meal and party in between, spices will be everywhere. People fix dishes in many ways, so something that you may normally eat without issue may not be safe at another time, because the person who prepared it may have altered the recipe. And again, spices are not just found in food. Many people use cinnamon scented candles (year-round, but especially around the holidays), potpourri and even the decorative cinnamon brooms. So, if you will be visiting others and eating at their home, or anywhere outside of your own home, it’s important to not only find out what will be in the dishes they serve, but to request that they not have any scented candles or anything set out that could trigger spice allergies.

As with all food allergies, the best treatment for a spice allergy is avoidance. And be sure to keep Benadryl and epinephrine (if needed) on hand. Be prepared when eating anywhere other than your home, or whenever you’ll be eating food that you didn’t cook yourself. Always ask questions!

Do you have a spice allergy or know someone who does? How do you manage it (especially during the holidays)? We would love to hear from you, so please share your experiences in the comment section below.

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