Oat Allergy Symptoms From Food and Skin Care Products

Concerns range from lotions to snack foods

If you have an oat allergy, it's not just food exposure that can lead to allergy symptoms. Aveeno, Nature's Gate, and other over-the-counter skin care products often contain oats that can lead to a skin reaction in people with an oat sensitivity.

Many popular brands list oat proteins as an ingredient in products meant to treat dry or irritated skin. It is often referred to as colloidal, or finely milled, oatmeal. But people with an oat allergy, both adults and children alike, may experience an itchy rash or eczema symptoms when using these products.

This article explains why skin products may cause oat allergy symptoms. It details how an allergic reaction to oats is diagnosed and treated, including what to do if a severe allergic reaction occurs.

Shot of a woman wrapped in a towel looking at bottles of cream in a bathroom
PeopleImages / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Quick Facts About Oat Ingredients

Usually, skin care products that contain oats are meant to treat conditions like atopic dermatitis, a chronic type of eczema skin rash—and in many cases, they do relieve symptoms.

For people with oat sensitivity, though, these products may actually be the cause of an allergic reaction. Many types of oats, along with other grains like barley, contain avenin.

This protein is known to cause an immune system response in some people who avoid gluten (often because they have been diagnosed with celiac disease). People with a food allergy to oatmeal may experience symptoms including:

  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion (stuffy nose)
  • Watery, itchy eyes
  • Stomach ache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

These systemic, or body-wide symptoms, are more likely when someone with an oat allergy eats oat products rather than being exposed through the skin. This includes small children, who can develop food-protein induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES) from eating certain grains, including oats.

In the United States, the Food & Drug Administration requires colloidal oatmeal to be listed on the label of any over-the-counter skin product that claims to treat atopic dermatitis.

Oat Allergy Symptoms

People with an oat allergy will typically experience red, blotchy spots on the skin called urticaria, or hives. In some cases, an outbreak may occur if a person accidentally touches oats and then other parts of the body.

These types of skin reactions range from the mild to severe. Symptoms can include:

  • Crusted or flaky skin around the eyes and lips
  • Itching
  • Blisters

Keep in mind that you may experience a delayed reaction to contact with oats. Symptoms of a delayed reaction may happen anywhere from a few hours to three days later.

Not all sources of contact with oats will come from foods or skin care products. For example, many latex-free exam gloves also contain colloidal oatmeal. If you have symptoms of contact dermatitis from an oat allergy, discuss the possible sources with your healthcare provider.

When to Seek Immediate Care

In rare cases, a severe and life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis may occur. This type of body-wide allergic reaction often starts with swelling of the lips and tongue, and itching in the throat, eyes, and ears. These symptoms may soon be followed by:

  • Severe hives
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Edema, or swelling, in the face
  • Changes in heart rate (fast or slow)
  • Chest pain
  • Cyanosis, or a bluish color at the lips or fingers
  • A sense of impending doom

If any of the symptoms of anaphylaxis develop, whether you have been knowingly exposed to oats or not, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If treatment is delayed, the condition can get worse and lead to anaphylactic shock and even death.

Oat Skin Allergies in Children

Many skin care products are marketed as especially for children. But many of these products include oats, wheat, and other food-allergy triggers that may cause a reaction when used on sensitive skin.

One study of 276 different skin care products for children found that more than a third of the product labels listed a food-related allergen. There were 156 such ingredients, including almonds, egg, milk, and peanuts. Oats was listed as an ingredient in 8.3% of the products studied.

Some experts have questioned whether all children (or children with other allergies) need to avoid oatmeal exposure in moisturizers. Many healthcare providers support their use in patients who have no known oat sensitivity.

One in seven children with atopic dermatitis who were included in a 2007 study already had a contact sensitization to oats. That number rose to about one in three when looking only at children who previously were exposed to an oat-based moisturizer.

Diagnosis

It's important to confirm any oat allergy symptoms that you or your child experience. As with most food-related allergies, your healthcare provider may suggest an elimination diet. This is a strategy used to isolate a specific food that's causing symptoms, and may be done with an allergy specialist.

Other ways to diagnose an oat sensitivity include skin tests, such as the patch test for a contact allergy. In this test, a patch with a small amount of the suspected allergy-causing substance is placed on the skin for several days to see if there is a reaction.

If tests confirm an oat allergy, you'll want to avoid exposure to the foods and skin products that contain oats. Most people might easily identify oatmeal, but other products include:

  • Oat milk
  • Oat flour
  • Cookies and other baked goods
  • Cereals that contain oats
  • Snack foods with oat ingredients

Since oat is not one of the top eight food allergens (milksoyeggwheatpeanuttree nutfish, and shellfish), manufacturers don't have to highlight it on nutrition facts labels. But they must still list it as an ingredient.

Treatment

If you or your child develop any allergy symptoms after using an oat-based skin care product, you'll want to start treatment right away.

Skin Care

Where the skin is irritated or has a rash, wash it right away with cool water and a mild soap. If the rash is mild and covers a small area, you can try an over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream to help relieve swelling and itching.

Medication

An oral antihistamine can sometimes help. For children, an over-the-counter product like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can usually do the trick. Other antihistamines include Claritin (loratadine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine).

However, if the rash is severe or blisters begin to develop, call your healthcare provider immediately or visit the nearest emergency room.

If your child is under age 2, speak with your pediatrician or other healthcare provider before using any anti-allergy or anti-inflammatory product.

Summary

Sometimes, people with a food allergy need to be as careful about the products they put on their bodies as they are with the foods they put in it. That's the case for people with oat allergy symptoms.

These symptoms, such as a red rash and itchy or irritated skin, can arise when your skin comes in contact with oats. Oats may be an ingredient in skin creams and moisturizers, especially for children.

In many cases, the symptoms will clear up with simple treatments and over-the-counter drugs. If you have a severe allergic reaction to an oat product, though, you need medical help right away.

A Word From Verywell

You may be surprised to learn that oat-based skin care products meant to bring relief for dry, itchy skin can actually cause symptoms for you or your child. If they do, suspect an oat sensitivity and contact your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can oats cause diarrhea?

    Usually, oats are a good food choice for people with diarrhea; they can be an alternate food for people following the BRAT diarrhea diet. But if you're not used to eating oats, or you have a food allergy, then they can upset your digestive health. That's especially true for young children.

  • What are good oat substitutes?

    When you can't eat or use oat-based products, you may need to look for alternatives beyond gluten-free oatmeal. Consider gluten-free grains such as quinoa or brown rice. If you need skin care, makeup, pet food, and other products without oats, shop around. There are many oat- and gluten-free items on the market.

  • Can you tell if you’re allergic to oats without seeing an allergist?

    An oat allergy may seem obvious to you based on your experience, and you may find relief from symptoms by keeping a diet journal to identify episodes or avoiding oat-based products through elimination. What you can't do is diagnose an oat sensitivity for yourself. Your healthcare provider or allergy specialist has the expertise to do that, so share that information with them.

Was this page helpful?
9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hebert AA, Rippke F, Weber TM, Nicol NH. Efficacy of nonprescription moisturizers for atopic dermatitis: an updated review of clinical evidenceAm J Clin Dermatol. 2020;21(5):641-655. doi: 10.1007/s40257-020-00529-9

  2. Dvořáček V, Kotrbová-Kozak A, Kozová-Doležalová J, et al. Specific avenin cross-reactivity with G12 antibody in a wide range of current oat cultivarsFoods. 2022;11(4):567. doi:10.3390/foods11040567

  3. Ludwig H, Krogulska A. Food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES) - a rare disease with frequent symptoms - the practitioner’s compendiumDev Period Med. 2019;23(1):67-78. doi:10.34763/devperiodmed.20192301.6778

  4. Food & Drug Administration. Skin protectant drug products for over-the-counter human use.

  5. National Eczema Society. Allergy factsheet.

  6. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Anaphylaxis

  7. Adomaite I, Vitkuviene A, Petraitiene S, Rudzeviciene O. Food allergens in skincare products marketed for children. Contact Dermatitis. 2020;83(4):271-276. doi:10.1111/cod.13645

  8. Johnston GA, Exton LS, Mohd Mustapa MF, et al. British Association of Dermatologists' guidelines for the management of contact dermatitis 2017. Br J Dermatol. 2017;176(2):317-329. doi:10.1111/bjd.15239

  9. Pien LC, Colbert CY. Time to develop more clinician-educators in allergy and immunologyJ Allergy Clin Immunol. 2020;145(2):456-62. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2019.12.008

Additional Reading