How to Identify a Chicken Allergy

Allergies result from the immune system mistaking a specific substance, known as an allergen, as dangerous and begins to attack it. For people with a chicken allergy, this process occurs when they consume or come into contact with chicken.

This type of allergy is extremely rare, affecting roughly 0.6% to 5% of people. Typically, young adults and adolescents are most affected by chicken allergies.

This article discusses the symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options for people who suffer from this very rare food allergy

Woman Cutting Raw Chicken on a Wooden Cutting Board

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Symptoms

The typical symptoms that occur when a person who is allergic to chicken include:

  • Swelling of the mouth, lips, tongue, face, and throat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Hives (urticaria)

Complications 

Although rare, some serious symptoms can occur and affect the heart. These symptoms can include:

These are symptoms of anaphylaxis, which is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Fortunately, this complication is rare.

What Are the Symptoms of Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis comes on suddenly and presents with symptoms such as:

  • Light-headedness
  • Feeling as though you may faint
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • An increased heartbeat
  • Skin that becomes clammy
  • Confusion or anxiety
  • Loss of consciousness

Risk Factors 

The factors most associated with an increased risk of developing a food allergy include:

  • Hygiene
  • Lack of exposure at an early age
  • The composition of gut bacteria (microorganisms living naturally within the intestines)
  • A person’s overall diet
  • Obesity
  • Vitamin D levels
  • Having eczema

When it comes to a chicken allergy specifically, a person who is allergic to another type of poultry may be at an increased risk of developing an allergy to chicken as well.

Other poultry foods include:

  • Turkey
  • Goose
  • Duck
  • Pheasant
  • Partridge

In some cases, those who are allergic to other types of meat, including fish and pork, could also be at an increased risk.

What Is Bird-Egg Syndrome?

Bird-egg syndrome describes the onset of a sensitivity to bird allergens later on in life. Those allergens are mainly feathers or droppings. The allergen that is most likely to blame for bird-egg syndrome is known as serum albumins, which are proteins found in all tissues of the bird, including their eggs.

People who have bird-egg syndrome are at an increased risk of developing an allergy to chicken. However, they don’t always develop one.

Diagnosis 

The diagnostic process for a chicken allergy is similar to diagnosing other food allergies. The process begins following the onset of symptoms.

When a person eats chicken and notices that they experience the same symptoms every time, they should meet with an allergist, who specializes in allergies and allergy testing.

Tests used to diagnose a chicken allergy include:

  • Blood test: An allergy blood test checks for chicken-specific antibodies that are being created to fight off the allergen when the immune system responds to its presence.
  • Skin prick test: A skin test involves the use of a small tool that resembles a comb. The allergen in question will then be placed on the combed or pricked area to see if there is a skin reaction.
  • Elimination diet: In some cases, a healthcare provider will request that you refrain from consuming chicken for a period of time and then reintroduce it into your diet to see if symptoms return.

What Is the Oral Challenge?

In rarer cases, a healthcare provider may do the oral challenge, which is a type of testing that involves having a person eat chicken to see if they have an allergic reaction. Since it can trigger severe symptoms, this test must be performed in the presence of the allergist in a controlled environment.  

Treatment

The best way to treat a chicken allergy is to avoid eating chicken. This will keep the allergen out of your system so you won’t suffer from an allergic reaction.

Unfortunately, this process is easier said than done, because some foods may have chicken ingredients, such as soups, that you are unaware of unless you read the packaging.

For severe cases of chicken allergy, injectable epinephrine may be used. Epinephrine helps to treat life-threatening allergic reactions. People with this type of severe allergy to chicken will need to carry around an EpiPpen (which contains epinephrine) with them wherever they go in case they come into contact with chicken by accident.

Depending on the severity of your allergy, you may be able to take oral antihistamines to combat the allergic reaction if you happen to accidentally consume chicken and are having a mild reaction.

What to Avoid

If you have a chicken allergy, you should avoid any products that contain chicken.

Common foods that contain chicken ingredients include:

  • Chicken broths and soups
  • Some pet foods that contain chicken ingredients and could irritate your skin if touched
  • Any frozen meat products that may contain chicken

Food Alternatives 

There are many other types of meat or food products that a person with a chicken allergy can substitute to avoid an allergic reaction. Examples of food alternatives include:

  • Tofu (food made from curdling soy milk)
  • Jackfruit (an ancient variety of fruit)
  • Tempeh (plant-based product made from soybeans)
  • Seitan (wheat-based product that acquires the look and texture of meat when cooked)
  • Cauliflower (a cruciferous vegetable)
  • Plant-based chicken products (be sure to check the labels to ensure that there are no allergy-inducing ingredients)

Aside from the plant-based chicken, these products typically have little to no flavor and can therefore be used as a substitute for chicken by using the same spices or sauces as you would if you were making a chicken-based meal.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you experience allergy symptoms every time you consume chicken, it may be time to see your healthcare provider.

A provider will put you in touch with an allergist or suggest that you try an elimination diet to determine whether the chicken is what’s causing your symptoms.

When It's an Emergency

If you are experiencing a severe allergic reaction, contact 911 immediately. Do not wait to see your healthcare provider or try to take histamines and wait it out. Severe allergic reactions can be life-threatening (anaphylaxis) and require immediate medical assistance.

Summary

A chicken allergy is a rare type of allergy that tends to affect young adults and adolescents. It occurs when the body’s immune system mistakes chicken as a dangerous substance and reacts to it, causing symptoms. Although a chicken allergy is typically mild, it can be severe in some cases.

The risk factors associated with chicken allergy include having other food allergies, eczema, or developing bird-egg syndrome later on in life. If you think you may have an allergy to chicken or poultry, you can speak with your healthcare provider about getting the proper tests done to confirm it and develop a treatment plan.

A Word From Verywell

Chicken is considered a staple ingredient in many kitchens, so avoiding it can be difficult for people with a chicken allergy. Fortunately, there are substitutes that work just as well in many chicken dishes that won’t result in side effects or symptoms. The adjustment period to living without chicken may be difficult, but it's worth it if it means relieving yourself from unwanted allergy symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common are chicken allergies?

    A chicken allergy is incredibly uncommon. It is most often found in young adults and adolescents, and the incidence rate is between 0.6% and 5%. However, since it is so undocumented, the true prevalence rate is unknown.

  • Can you be allergic to chicken but not eggs?

    While being allergic to chicken can cause a person to also be allergic to eggs, it is not always the case. Some cases of chicken allergy do not go hand in hand with an egg allergy. When a person is allergic to both, it is often referred to as bird-egg syndrome.

  • How severe is a chicken allergy?

    It is possible for chicken allergies to be severe. That said, the majority of cases are mild to moderate. This means that the majority of people allergic to chicken are not at risk of severe allergic complications if they do come into contact with the allergen. 

  • What’s the difference between a chicken allergy and a chicken intolerance?

    While both food intolerance and allergies present with symptoms, the two aren’t the same. An intolerance is more closely associated with gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea, whereas an allergy is more associated with general symptoms, such as swelling of the mouth, face or lips, or hives. Both negatively affect people, but the effects are different.

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6 Sources
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