All About Shellfish Allergy

Shellfish allergy is a kind of food allergy which affects about 2% of all Americans. Shellfish allergy is caused when your immune system mistakenly reacts to the proteins present in the shellfish.

Shellfish allergy can result in hives, nasal congestion and can also cause life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. The best way to manage shellfish allergies is to get diagnosed and avoid the food altogether.

Types of Shellfish:

Shellfish are divided into crustaceans and mollusks.

  • Crustaceans:

    Shrimp, lobster, prawns, crab, crawfish, sea urchin and langoustines are examples of crustaceans

  • Mollusks:

    oysters, mussels, clams, abalone, scallops, limpets, periwinkles, snails, octopus, cuttlefish, and squid are examples of mollusks

Some people may be allergic to only one type of shellfish, while some people react to all types of shellfish.

Symptoms of Shellfish Allergy:

Common symptoms of shellfish allergy are hives, itching, and redness of the skin. Symptoms can also include swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, vomiting, nasal congestion and abdominal pain. Although uncommon, shellfish allergy can lead to anaphylaxis, which includes a drop in blood pressure, lightheadedness, and loss of consciousness.

Shellfish allergy should not be confused with food poisoning. Shellfish allergy is caused due to the overreaction of the immune system, while food poisoning may be caused due to the contamination

Shellfish Allergy Diagnosis:

For diagnosing shellfish allergy, your doctor can recommend you skin prick test or blood test. In skin prick test, the protein present in shellfish is exposed to your skin and observed for any reaction such as hives. In the blood test, also known as radioallergosorbent (RAST), your blood is tested for sensitivity to shellfish.

Preventing Shellfish Allergies:

Here are a few tips to prevent shellfish allergies:

  • Inquire about the ingredients while eating out:

    While eating out, do read the menu and always inquire about the ingredients used in the dish. This is because the sauces, condiments used in the dishes can contain hidden shellfish content

  • Beware of cross-contamination:

    Some restaurants use the same pan, oil and utensils for shellfish and other dishes. Hence, be careful of cross-contamination and avoid environments where shellfish are cooked or processed

  • Read the food labels:

    Food labels indicate if shellfish products are present in the product. Reading the food labels would help you to avoid such products

Some people believe that if they have iodine allergy, they are allergic to shellfish too. However, this is not true and both of these allergies are unrelated.

If you are allergic to shellfish, always carry an injectable epinephrine to prevent anaphylactic shock. Hence, getting diagnosed and avoiding shellfish is the best way to manage shellfish allergies

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