Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Spice Allergies

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Spices are unlikely sources of an allergy. With that being said, spice allergies have been known to occur.

According to a review from the Louisiana State University Health Science Center, as many as 14 of every 10,000 people may have a spice allergy. Symptoms of a spice allergy can range from mild to life-threatening.

This article discusses spice allergies and their symptoms. It also explains how doctors diagnose them, and what you can do to both treat and prevent reactions.

spice allergy symptoms

Verywell / Nez Riaz

Spice Allergy Symptoms

There are some normal physiological responses that can occur in anyone who eats certain spices. For example, chili or wasabi may cause immediate watering of the eyes and burning in the mouth in anyone who consumes them.

The reaction is not due to an allergic response, but to the chemical compounds they contain (capsaicin and allyl isothiocyanate, respectively). These irritate the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth.

This may be mistaken for an allergic reaction to a spice. However, with a spice allergy, there may also be other symptoms such as:

Others still may experience shortness of breath or develop a rash where the spice came in contact with skin. This is known as contact dermatitis.

Spices are rarely eaten by themselves, and dishes that contain them often include a blend of different seasonings—not just one. Because of this, it can be hard to tell if a certain spice or the food it is in is to blame for a reaction.

Symptoms of Anaphylaxis

In some cases, a potentially deadly, full-body allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis can occur.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis are typically severe and may include:

Anaphylaxis is considered a medical emergency that requires immediate 911 assistance. Even if symptoms appear to get better on their own, they can return hours later—even if you haven't been exposed to the spice a second time.

If left untreated, anaphylaxis can rapidly progress and lead to:

  • Coma
  • Shock
  • Cardiac or respiratory failure
  • Death

Diagnosis

If your doctor thinks you have a spice allergy, they may perform an allergy test.

Most allergy tests involve applying skin patches, but not all spices can be tested this way. This is especially true for hot spices that can inflame and irritate the skin.

There are some blood-based allergy tests available. But here too, many of them can't test for the broad range of potential spice allergens.

This all means that your personal experience is extremely important to making an allergy diagnosis. Repeated episodes can usually help narrow down what you may be allergic to.

Be sure to pay attention to the foods you eat, what they contain, and how you feel after eating them. Report all of this information to your healthcare provider. (The more detail, the better.)

Food Allergies Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

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Treatment

The treatment of a spice allergy depends on the type and severity of symptoms experienced. Among the options:

An EpiPen injection provides immediate relief when you are experiencing a life-threatening allergic reaction. But if you have symptoms of anaphylaxis, you should still go to the emergency room and seek immediate medical care.

Prevention

Ultimately, the best way to deal with a spice allergy is to avoid the spice in question. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

Many foods are pre-seasoned or use seasoning agents made from multiple herbs, spices, and chemicals. And dishes prepared in a restaurant may include spices not called out on a menu.

A person is rarely allergic to just one type of spice. There is a high cross-reactivity between spices, nuts, and even tree pollens. What this means is that the chemical structure of certain foods is so similar that they both can trigger an allergic response.

Examples of cross-reactivity include:

  • Oregano and thyme
  • Onion and garlic
  • Paprika and mace
  • Mustard and rapeseed
  • Mustard and tree nuts
  • Sesame and tree nuts
  • Cottonseed and walnut
  • Birch pollen and various spices
  • Mugwort pollen and various spices
  • Celery and various spices
  • Carrot and various spices
  • Fenugreek and peanut

Given this, a person with a severe allergy may need to avoid all spices until they find the allergen or allergens that are causing the problem.

They may also need to carry an EpiPen or a pre-loaded epinephrine syringe to use in case they experience a severe reaction.

Summary

Although it's rare for someone to have a spice allergy, it can sometimes occur. People may even experience severe allergic reactions when they eat particular spices.

Most allergy tests only test for a small variety of spices. This is why you should pay close attention to the foods you eat. If you repeatedly experience allergic reactions to certain foods, this can help you pinpoint which spice allergens cause you to feel sick.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What spices most frequently cause allergies?

    Some common spice allergies include cinnamon, garlic, black pepper, and vanilla. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, heating some spices when cooking may be more likely to trigger some allergies.

  • What is the difference between a spice allergy and an intolerance?

    A spice intolerance is usually limited and can resolve without treatment, while an allergy can be life-threatening. However, both allergies and intolerances can have some of the same symptoms. For example, an intolerance can cause a rash or itchy mouth, some of the same symptoms as an allergy. That's why it's important to see your allergist for a diagnosis.

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4 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. Chen JL, Bahna SL. Spice allergy. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2011;107(3):191-9. doi:10.1016/j.anai.2011.06.020

  2. ACAAI Public Website. Anaphylaxis: Causes, symptoms & treatment.

  3. American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Sugar and spice and everything not so nice.

  4. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Can spices cause allergic reactions?