Spice Allergies

Approximately 2-3% of the population has spice allergies, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. While it may seem like a small number, with the increasing diversity of the American diet and growing use of spices, it’s likely this allergy is on the increase, many allergists believe.(1)

There is an important distinction between a non-allergic reaction considered an “intolerance” and a true allergic reaction. “For example, eating chili or wasabi may cause your eyes to water and mouth to burn because the chemicals in the spice (allyl isothiocyanate and capsaicin, respectively) irritate the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth. In this instance, the effect is physiological and the response immediate.”(2)

A spice allergy is likely to produce other, more serious symptoms, which may include hives, nausea, congestion, or swelling of the lips. A severe reaction, anaphylaxis, is a medical emergency requiring immediate 911 assistance.(2)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate spices, and spices are often not noted on food labels. This makes them difficult to identify as an allergen.(1) Adding to the difficulty is the fact that spices are generally not eaten alone, so it is hard to determine if a reaction is caused by a food, or a spice that was added at some point during the cooking process.(2) Spice allergies have been described with many individual spices including oregano, thyme, coriander, caraway seed, cumin, and cayenne pepper.(3)

When a spice allergy is suspected, an allergist should be seen for diagnosis and a treatment plan.(1) Depending on the severity of symptoms, some treatment options may include: oral antihistamines, corticosteroids, or epinephrine injection.(3)

(1) American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, Sugar and Spice and Everything Not So Nice, https://acaai.org/news/

(2)  More, D. M.D., Happel, C. M.D., verywellhealth, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment of Spice Allergies, https://www.verywellhealth.com/

(3) American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, Can Spices Cause Allergic Reactions, https://www.aaaai.org/