An allergy to fish is one of the most common food allergies occurring in both children and adults. Recent studies concluded that a fish allergy affects about 0.4 percent of the population. Although a fish allergy can develop during childhood, about 40 percent of people with a fish allergy do not have a noticeable reaction until adulthood. Like many other food allergies, an allergy to fish can usually be expected to last a lifetime.
Like other food allergies, symptoms of an allergic reaction to fish can vary widely in severity. A mild reaction may include irritated skin or rash, headache, upset stomach, vomiting or diarrhea, as well as common allergy symptoms like a runny nose or scratchy throat. Like all food allergies, a severe and life threatening reaction called anaphylaxis may occur. Because these reactions can be unpredictable and anaphylaxis may occur quickly, it is recommended that anyone with a fish or other food allergy have access to a portable epinephrine injector, such as an EpiPen.
Sea Food Allergy
A shellfish allergy is often associated with fish allergies, and the two are commonly grouped into what is referred to as a “seafood allergy.” However, although it is possible for a person to have an allergy to both fish and shellfish, it should be noted that fish (or “finfish”) allergies and shellfish allergies are not related and someone suffering from a fish allergy does not necessarily need to avoid shellfish. It is, however, very important to be aware of the risk of cross-contamination, as many stores and restaurants that process and cook shellfish also process and cook finfish, and the two can easily come into contact.
Foods to Avoid
Many people who are known to be allergic to one type of fish are commonly allergic to two or more other types, and so most children diagnosed with a fish allergy are encouraged to avoid all varieties of fish. However, people with one fish allergy are not necessarily reactive to all types of fish, so it is possible that a child with an allergy to trout, for example, may not have an allergic reaction to salmon. If your child has been diagnosed with a certain fish allergy and you wish to bring another type into his or her diet, be sure to consult your allergist and undergo allergenic screening to be sure there is not any danger of a reaction.
It is estimated that there are over 20,000 species of finfish, but these are some of the most common that people report having a reaction to:
Unexpected Sources of Fish
Fish can be found in some unexpected foods, and it is important to know which foods or food ingredients may contain fish. Some foods to be wary of include:
- Soup bases like bouillabaisse
- Worcestershire sauce
- Imitation fish and imitation crab
- Barbeque sauce
- Caesar salad and dressing
- Fish oil and other supplements
Another potential threat comes from the small amount of allergenic proteins that are released into the air with the steam as fish is cooking. Some people may react from simply inhaling these proteins, so it is recommended that a child with a severe fish allergy avoid restaurants and cooking areas where fish may be present. In fact, experts recommend that children with fish allergies avoid seafood restaurants in general, due to the risk of cross contamination and the potential for proteins in the air.
If you or your child experiences any worrying symptoms from fish exposure, make an appointment with your doctor right away. As with other allergies, your doctor may prescribe antihistamines or an epinephrine shot, but the best way to stay healthy is a professional diagnosis and strict avoidance of the allergen.