What is Sesame Allergy?

Sesame allergy is essentially a food allergy. About 3.9% of children are allergic to food in the United States. 0.1% of children have the discussed allergy. However, the number of people allergic to the said seed is on the rise in the United States. Experts believe that it could be one of the top eight food allergen in America. People having tree nut allergies may experience cross reaction to sesame.

Food allergies especially nut allergies are outgrown by the age of 6. However, the discussed allergy can affect individuals of any age.

What is sesame allergy?

Sesame seeds and sesame oil have been used from ancient times. They come primarily in black, brown and white colors. It is a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern food products like tahini and hummus. It is also used in breads, biscuits and sauces. It is used in cosmetics like lipsticks and moisturizing creams.

The mechanism of the said allergy essentially involves an overactive immune system. The immune system perceives the otherwise harmless proteins in the seed as a threat and triggers the production of the Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. These antibodies react and bind with the protein and causes the mast cells under the skin to release histamine. Histamine is a chemical which is linked to the adverse reactions experienced in the body. Histamine causes the itching and skin rashes. It causes the red watery eyes. It may even cause the extreme life threatening situation in allergy, namely, anaphylaxis.

Symptoms of Sesame Allergy

  • Hives or Urticaria
  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Angioedema
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Oral allergy syndrome
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath, drop in blood pressure, confusion, headache etc can bring about an emergency situation as in anaphylaxis.
  • A non IgE mediated response could also be triggered by an exposure to chemicals in various products in the environment.

Allergy Testing

  • Elimination diet is the first test undertaken. The doctor asks the patient to eliminate the seeds from the diet for a few weeks. Later the seeds are reintroduced into the diet. If symptoms reappear then the food allergy is confirmed.
  • Food Challenge test is giving the individual the suspected allergen unknowingly in a controlled environment. If reactions appear then the allergy is confirmed.
  • Other tests would be the skin prick or skin patch tests where a prick is made on the skin and the allergen is let into the body. If symptoms appear then the allergy is confirmed.
  • Blood tests such as the RAST ( Radioallergosorbent testing) or ELISA ( Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent assay) are done to look for antibodies.

Treatment of Sesame Allergy

  • Like any other food allergy, elimination is the best solution. Stay away from foods containing sesame.
  • Antihistamines can help tab the excess histamine and bring relief from the symptoms.
  • Decongestants can help with the congestion if any. However, decongestants are not meant for long term use.
  • Corticosteroids brings down inflammation.
  • An emergency dose of epinephrine needs to be administered in anaphylaxis.
  • It is extremely important to read labels to avoid ingesting any food containing it.
  • Allergen immunotherapy or allergy shots could also be tried. Allergy shots are when small doses of the allergen are gradually introduced in the body under medical supervision. Over a period of time the dose is increased until the immunological tolerance is built.

Cross Reactivity Issues

The said allergy comes with some cross reactivity issues. Sesame shares the same chemical structure with a lot of tree nuts. Tree nuts are a well established allergen in the United States. So anyone with a hypersensitivity to sesame might also be allergic to tree nuts. This is known as cross reactivity. The immune system reacts similarly to things which essentially have the same chemical structure. Hence, it becomes all the more important for anybody with the said allergy to go for a comprehensive allergy test.

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