Shellfish Allergies: Facts vs. Fiction

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Between the web and word of mouth, there is much information floating around regarding different allergies, including shellfish. Shellfish allergies affect children and adults, ranging from mild to severe symptoms. If you think that you or a family member may have a shellfish allergy, it’s essential to see an allergist and get allergy testing.

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What is a Shellfish Allergy?
A shellfish allergy is an allergy to one or more kinds of shellfish. Some people may have an allergy to just one type of shellfish, such as lobster or shrimp, but others have an allergy to several different shellfish. A person with a shellfish allergy may also be allergic to other kinds of seafood. If you are not sure what type of shellfish you are allergic to, it’s best to avoid any shellfish or seafood until you visit an allergy doctor for a diagnosis.

Although people can be allergic to any shellfish, the most common are:

  • Shrimp
  • Lobster
  • Crab
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Common Allergy Myths
There are several myths about food allergies, and here are some of the most common.

Myth: Food allergies are common.
Fact: Food allergies are not as common as people think, so you should get tested for suspected allergies to determine if you are truly allergic to a substance. About eight percent of children in the US have a confirmed food allergy, and about two percent of adults are affected by a food allergy.

Myth: Food and shellfish allergies are not that serious.
Fact: The symptoms of food and shellfish allergies vary widely. Some people may have GI discomfort or unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. In others, a reaction may be severe and even life-threatening. Swelling, hives, itching, and difficulty breathing are some of the more serious symptoms associated with food allergies. Allergies can also trigger an anaphylactic shock, resulting in death if the person does not get treatment right away.

Myth: A little won’t hurt you.
Fact: While some believe that consuming a small amount of food that one is allergic to won’t cause harm, that is not the case. For people with a severe food allergy, consuming even just a tiny portion of a food allergen can cause a severe reaction. To be safe, people with a food allergy must remove the allergen from their diet to avoid a serious reaction. Along with avoiding the allergen directly, allergy sufferers should also avoid cross-contamination, which happens when an allergen is transferred to another food by mistake. Even though the other food may initially be harmless to the allergy sufferer, it is considered dangerous when it comes into contact with the allergen.

Myth: You can outgrow shellfish allergies.
Fact: Shellfish allergies can appear at any time in life. Children may have allergies at a young age, but adults can develop shellfish allergies at any time. Shellfish allergies can also produce a severe reaction the first time someone comes into contact with shellfish after developing an allergy. Very few people outgrow the allergy, and it may worsen over time.

Myth: You can’t have an allergic reaction if you don’t consume shellfish.
Fact: People who have a shellfish allergy can still react even if they do not eat the food. The proteins in seafood and shellfish, which cause allergic reactions, can get into the air when the food is cooked. People who have allergies can have a reaction from inhaling the particles of air that transmit proteins, even if they don’t physically come into contact with the allergen. Inhaling steam from a kitchen where shellfish is cooking or handling fish or seafood can produce a reaction in people with a sensitivity to shellfish and seafood.

Myth: Shellfish allergies are caused by iodine.
Fact: A common misconception about shellfish allergies is that if you are allergic to shellfish or seafood, you are also allergic to iodine. Seafood and shellfish contain iodine, but iodine itself does not cause food allergies, and proteins instead cause allergic reactions to seafood and shellfish. That means you don’t have to avoid iodine because you have a shellfish allergy. However, if you are concerned about the possibility of an iodine reaction, you should contact an allergist to schedule testing to ensure that you are not allergic to iodine in addition to shellfish.

Myth: A computed tomography (CT) scan with contrast is unsafe for people with shellfish allergies.
Fact: A CT scan with contrast (which contains iodine) was thought to be unsafe for people with a shellfish allergy. However, recent studies have shown that there is not an increased risk of an allergic reaction for people with a shellfish allergy who have a CT scan. Unless you have previously reacted to contrast dye, you don’t have to worry about an adverse reaction to contrast dye if you have been diagnosed with a shellfish or seafood allergy.

Myth: Glucosamine and carrageenan are unsafe to consume for shellfish allergy sufferers.
Fact: Glucosamine, which is a supplement, and carrageenan, which is an algae, have historically been considered to be unsafe for individuals with a shellfish allergy. Glucosamine is used as a supplement to improve joint health. Glucosamine has been linked to shellfish allergies in the past because it is extracted from the shells of certain marine life. However, it is not taken from the animals themselves. Only the animals contain the proteins that cause allergic reactions, not the shells. That means the supplements that have glucosamine do not contain the allergy-causing proteins attributed to shellfish allergies. Allergy sufferers will not have an allergic reaction as a result. Carrageenan is a common type of algae that is frequently added to various foods, including dairy products. It is also added to non-food products such as toothpaste. Although it comes from the ocean, carrageenan is not connected with shellfish allergies, and it is safe for people with a shellfish allergy to consume.

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How to Manage Shellfish Allergies
Now that you know a bit more about shellfish allergies, you can take the actions necessary to ensure that allergies are less of a problem in your own life. Shellfish allergies should be diagnosed and managed by an allergist. If you think that you or someone in your family has an allergy, you should ask, “Where can I find an allergist near me who can help?”. The answer is Dr. Tottori, who specializes in diagnosing and managing allergies in children and adults. Be sure to make an appointment as soon as possible since allergy testing to confirm allergies can save lives.

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If you are suffering from allergies or asthma, let Dr. Tottori help. If you’re thinking, “It’s time to schedule food allergy testing near me” or get relief from your symptoms, we can help. It is simple to book an appointment online through our website or call us at (702) 240 4322.

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