Sesame Seed Allergy and Cross-Reactivity

Sesame seeds have been used for a variety of reasons for thousands of years. They are available in three different colors—white, black, and brown. Sesame seeds and the oil extracted from the seeds are commonly used in recipes; sesame oils are found in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

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What Is Sesame Allergy?

Allergy to sesame is not a new problem. Though it was first described in 1950, it seems to be a growing problem. A recent study showed that sesame allergy was the fourth most common food allergy in Australian children, behind egg, milk, and peanut. Another recent study showed that sesame allergy in Israeli children is more common than peanut allergy, and only milk and egg allergy are more common food allergies. Sesame allergy can affect people of all ages. In some cases it is outgrown, while in others it persists.

The symptoms of sesame allergy can include urticaria/angioedema, allergic rhinitis, asthma, atopic dermatitis, oral allergy syndrome, and even anaphylaxis. Other people have experienced contact urticaria (hives) as a result of direct exposure to cosmetics or pharmaceutical products containing sesame allergens.

Does Sesame Allergy Place a Person at Risk for Other Food Allergies?

Because sesame allergens are similar in biochemical structure to peanut allergens, people with sesame allergy are at risk for having allergic reactions as a result of eating peanuts, and vice-versa. This is known as cross-reactivity — when one substance is similar to another and the immune system treats them both the same. There also appears to be cross-reactivity between sesame allergens and rye, kiwi, poppy seed, and various tree nuts (such as hazelnut, black walnut, cashew, macadamia, and pistachio). People with sesame allergy should talk with their physicians about which other food they may need to avoid.

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