About Shellfish Allergies
One of the most common food allergies includes shellfish. Shellfish allergies are frequently incorrectly linked to fish and iodine allergies when in fact they are distinctly different. There is no relation between an allergy to iodine or radio-contrast material and an allergy to shellfish. Even when we compare Fish and shellfish, they technically belong to two different food families. A person can be allergic to lobster, for example, and not allergic to salmon or cod. However, if an individual suffers an extreme reaction to regular fish, it would be prudent to approach shellfish with caution.
Interestingly, there are two distinct categories of shellfish: crustaceans, which include shrimp, lobster, crab, squid, crayfish and prawns, and mollusks, which include abalone, mussels, oysters, scallops, claims, snails, squid and octopus. A person can be allergic to shrimp or lobster in the crustacean category, but he may still be able to eat snails and squid in the mollusk category. If one is allergic to a particular crustacean, there’s a 75 percent chance of being allergic to another shellfish within the crustacean group, but there’s a lower percentage of being allergic to one of the foods in the mollusk group.
Shellfish allergies are one of the most common types of allergies among adults. It is estimated that two percent of the population in North America have an allergy to shellfish. In some countries, however, the estimates are much higher. For example, in Scandinavia about fifteen percent of the adult population suffer from shellfish allergies.
A person may have a shellfish allergy attack when they have ingested the offending food, but there are other triggers that can cause this type of allergy attack. For example, one can also react to shellfish by having his or her food cross contaminated with shellfish, or even by breathing in the airborne particles from the steam of cooked shellfish. For example, if a pizza contains shrimp, simply removing the shrimp from the pizza will still leave the remnants of shrimp oil. So when someone eats the pizza, it can still cause an allergic reaction. Or in the case of a restaurant where the same oil is used to cook shellfish and fries; sharing the same frying pan is enough to trigger an allergic reaction to an individual who is sensitive to shellfish. It is recommended that if someone has an allergy to shellfish, they should not even be present in the home when it is being cooked, especially if they have a history of severe reactions.
Shellfish allergies tend to first appear during adulthood. It is common for individuals to have been able to consume shrimp, crab, or lobster for several years and then to suddenly experience a serious allergic reaction to these foods. Sometimes just the smell of the particular shellfish is enough to initiate an allergic reaction.
A person’s allergic reaction to shellfish can be minor, with responses such as hives/rashes (around the stomach, limbs, and face), itching, welts, eczema, nasal congestion and swollen lips. If a person experiences swelling, it normally occurs on the lips, tongue, throat or hands. Shellfish allergies can also be more serious with reactions that are life threatening, such as severe abdominal pain, cramping, chest tightness, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of consciousness, and anaphylaxis. Some shellfish allergy sufferers have gone into anaphylactic shock by merely breathing in shellfish particles, without ever having ingested the food itself. Since shellfish allergies tend to be serious and lifelong, extreme caution should be taken when selecting these foods, and even greater caution should be taken when selecting these foods at restaurants, since someone else is preparing the food for you.
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To diagnose a shellfish allergy, skin and blood tests may be performed by a physician. Skin tests can be used to determine which shellfish an individual is allergic to while blood tests can be used to measure the severity of the allergic reaction. For those who are open to holistic types of medicine, muscle response testing can be used as an effective, non-invasive method of identifying shellfish allergies. Doctors trained in the NAET or Bioset methods of allergy elimination are often quite adept at using muscle response testing to identify various allergies.
Conventional medicine will tell you that avoiding the offending food is always the best practice to prevent an allergic reaction. If an individual is allergic to a particular shellfish, doctors may advise you that it is wise to avoid all shellfish. When frequenting restaurants, especially Asian restaurants where they serve many types of fish and shellfish, it is wise to clearly state that you have an allergy and your food must be prepared away from the shellfish (as sometimes the items may be fried in the same oil, or cut on the same board, etc). When you have an allergy to shellfish, it is not adequate to simply wipe off a surface. Water and soap must be used to clear away all the food particles and oils in order to prevent allergic reactions.
If you have been exposed to a shellfish allergen and your reaction is not life threatening, here are a few options you can try in order minimize your reaction to the allergen. Antihistamines can be taken which may reduce the severity of the reaction. Similarly, creams and lotions can be used to reduce the itchiness from hives and rashes. Ice packs can also be used to ease the discomfort of hives or swelling.
For those with extreme shellfish allergies, physicians may prescribe epinephrine which should be used at the onset of an allergic response to prevent a severe or fatal reaction. For those with this type of severe allergic reactions, an EpiPen should be carried at all times, and wearing a medical alert bracelet would be beneficial in case an individual is unable to respond during their allergic episode.
Unfortunately there is no way to prevent or predict a shellfish allergy. In many cases, the onset of the allergy occurs in adulthood even though before that time, a person may have been able to eat a variety of fish and shellfish for years. So after years of care free eating, one day an individual can be sitting down to dinner, have a bite of lobster, and immediately thereafter start experiencing swollen lips, rash, trouble breathing, etc.
Foods to Avoid
You might think it would be easy to avoid an allergic reaction by just avoiding your offending foods, but it is not that simple. In our age of convenience and with our propensity toward processed foods, what have to remember to carefully read food labels. Many food products will state that the ingredients “may contain” certain products, and in this case we need to be alert for shellfish related items. For those suffering from serious allergic reactions it is even more important to be diligent. Some items that may contain seafood products include:
- sandwich meats
- hot dogs
- salad dressings
- sauces, dips, or spreads
Shellfish allergies can cause very serious reactions and may require an immediate medical response in order to avoid a life threatening situation. People suffering from this type of allergy need to be acutely aware of the foods they are consuming so they can avoid contact with their offending foods. In the extreme cases, physicians may prescribe the use of an EpiPen to treat possible anaphylactic episodes. As always, conventional medical advice tells us that avoiding the offending food is the best course of action.click here to learn more about shellfish allergies