Seafood Allergies Can Result in Serious Health Issues

Dorian Martin Health Guide March 15, 2013
  • Recently, I wrote a sharepost about a large study that focused on the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. While the study definitely got my attention about how I eat, not everyone will feel the same way. That’s because the large quantity of fish that is part of this particular diet can cause allergic reactions in many people.


    After doing a little research, I found that there is a difference in types of allergies related to seafood. For instance, Nemours’ KidsHealth reports that a shellfish allergy isn’t the same as a seafood allergy because seafood (such as tuna or salmon) and shellfish (such as shrimp or clams) are biologically different.  Therefore, you may be allergic to some types of seafood, but not to others.


    Shellfish Allergies


    There are two different types of shellfish allergies, since there are two different types of shellfish. The first is to crustaceans, which includes shrimp, crab or lobster. The second type of allergy is to mollusks, which includes clams, mussels, oysters and scallops.


    This type of allergy can develop at any age. In fact, people who have been able to enjoy shellfish in the past may develop this type of allergy. Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) points out that approximately 60 percent of people who have this type of allergy experience their first allergic reaction when they are adults. However, most people who develop an allergy to shellfish will not outgrow it later in life, unlike some food allergies which can ease over time.


    Furthermore, not everyone is allergic to both types of shellfish. Most allergic reactions are seen when someone who is allergic to a particular type of shellfish eats it. However, some people can have an allergic reaction to just touching a particular type of shellfish or breathing in vapors as the shellfish is cooked.


    The reaction to this type of allergy can vary from a mild reaction to a very serious one that includes anaphylaxis that can result in symptoms on the skin or in the gastrointestinal system, the respiratory system or the cardiovascular system. These symptoms can include difficulty breathing, tightness/constriction in the throat, hoarseness, trouble speaking, wheezing, nasal stuffiness, coughing, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, a racing heartbeat or pulse, itchy skin, tingling, redness or swelling.  These types of reaction require immediate treatment through administering epinephrine. Therefore, it is important for people who have a shellfish allergy to avoid the type of shellfish that can trigger any type of reaction.


    Shellfish sometimes can be found in food, such as Bouillabaisse, cuttlefish ink, glucosamine, fish stock, seafood flavoring and surimi. People who have shellfish allergies should avoid seafood restaurants (due to the possibility of cross-contamination) as well as Asian restaurants, because they often use fish sauce as a flavoring base.

    Fish Allergy


    People who have this type of allergy may be allergic to a specific type of fish but not to every type of fish.  This type of allergy can develop at any age, even if the person has eaten the type of fish before without a reaction. In fact, FARE reports that about 40 percent of people who have this type of allergy actually have their first allergic reaction when they are adults.  The most common fish that people are allergic to are salmon, tuna and halibut. Other types of fish that often cause allergic reactions include bass, catfish, cod, flounder, halibut and trout. More than 50 percent of all people who are allergic to one type of fish also will turn out to be allergic to other types of fish.  Once they have developed, fish allergies tend to continue for the rest of a person’s life.


  • Like people who have a shellfish allergy, those who are allergic to fish tend to experience a reaction when eating it. However, some people may have a reaction from touching fish or breathing in the vapors when the fish is being cooked.


    People with a fish allergy may have a reaction of their immune system after coming into contact with fish. The symptoms can include wheezing, trouble breathing, coughing, hoarseness, tightening of the throat, stomach ache, vomiting, diarrhea, eyes that are itchy or swollen, hives, red spots, swelling or a drop in blood pressure that can lead to lightheadedness or loss of consciousness. Therefore, if you or someone you know has this type of allergy, it’s important to avoid the type of fish that causes an allergic reaction. Also, talk to your doctor about being tested to determine the specific types of fish to which you’re allergic.


    Make sure that you read food labels to make sure that “fish” is not included in the ingredient list. That’s because fish is used in some products that you may not expect, such as Caesar salad dressing, Worcestershire sauce, meatloaf, caponata, Bouillabaisse, imitation or artificial fish or shellfish, and barbecue sauces. Additionally, look for warnings of potential cross-contamination such as statements that say that the food is processed in a facility or on equipment that also processes fish. However, also be warned that manufacturers don’t have to include this type of warning on their food products. Therefore, you may want to check with the company to see if a product contains fish.


    Furthermore, be careful when you dine out. Ethnic restaurants are considered hi-risk because cuisines such as Chinese, African, Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese often use fish and fish ingredients.


    Seafood Allergy


    A seafood allergy means that a person is allergic to both fish and shellfish. Therefore, it is best to avoid coming into contact with the particular offending shellfish or seafood.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:


    Food Allergy Research & Education. (nd). Fish allergies.


    Food Allergy Research & Education.  (nd). Shellfish allergies.


    KidsHealth for Nemours. (nd). About fish allergy.


    KidsHealth for Nemours. (nd). About shellfish allergy.


    Mayo Clinic. (2011). Shellfish allergy.

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