Chocolate Allergy

choclate-ellergyAllergens are everywhere. More than half the population in America (54.6%) suffers from one or more allergies.

Chocolate allergy

is essentially a food allergy. Food allergies affect around 2% of the world population. In the United States, it affects around 6% of children and 3-4% of adults.

Being allergic to a delicacy like chocolate is indeed unfortunate. However, rarely anyone is allergic to chocolate or cocoa itself. What one is allergic to are really the ingredients that are used as additives to commercially process chocolate. The additives used to process cocoa are milk, nuts, corn syrup, chemicals, gluten, soy etc. The allergies are mostly caused by these additives.

What is the mechanism behind Chocolate Allergy?

Allergies are manifestations of a hyperactive immune system. In food allergies, certain proteins in food may be perceived as threats by the immune system. The immune system responds by producing antibodies, namely, Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies react and bind with the protein causing the mast cells in the gut, pharynx and skin to release histamine. Histamine causes the adverse physical reactions in the body like dilation of blood vessels (causing inflammation) or irritating nerve endings (causing skin rashes), etc.

How is this allergy caused?

This allergy is caused, as mentioned before, due to the ingredients used as additives. These ingredients are discussed in detail below:

  • Milk

    It is a primary ingredient in milk chocolates. Having lactose intolerance or milk allergy can make an individual susceptible to the said allergy. Dark chocolate or bittersweet varieties with lesser sugar and milk might help in this case. Dairy free chocolates which uses mostly soy milk as a substitute is often a good option.

  • Nut

    Tree Nut allergies affect around 1.2 % of the population in the United States. Nuts are a major additive when it comes to chocolates. They simply enhance the flavor, texture and taste of the chocolate. Nut free chocolates are the best option. Care needs to be taken that the nut free chocolates are not processed in the same facility processing the ones with nuts. Cross contamination can create allergic reactions.

  • Soy

    Additives like soy lecithin are added to emulsify chocolate so that they remain solid in room temperature.

  • Caffeine

    Cocoa contains minimal amount of caffeine. Anybody sensitive to caffeine might develop allergic reactions on eating chocolate.

  • Wheat and Gluten

    Wheat and gluten are common additives used in chocolates. They are used to bring the gooey mass together or as a binder.

  • Corn

    High fructose corn syrup is added as a sweetener in chocolates. Anybody allergic to corn can develop symptoms on being exposed to it through chocolate.

Another cause of the said allergy which is not related to food is the fact that allergies could have a heredity component associated with them. If one or both parents have a said allergy then it increases the possibility of the child getting the same.

Symptoms of Chocolate Allergy

Like any other food allergy, chocolate can trigger a string of reactions which are as follows:

  • Oral allergy symptoms like facial inflammation, swelling of lips, tongue and mouth etc.
  • Stomach upset and diarrhea.
  • Vomiting and Nausea.
  • Headache and confusion.
  • Skin rashes and itching.
  • An extreme condition, namely, anaphylaxis can occur. Shortness of breath, wheezing, confusion, headache, drop in blood pressure etc can bring about a medical emergency.

Detection and Diagnosis of the Allergy

  • In case of food allergies, a food challenge test or an elimination test whereby the food one is allergic to is withdrawn and reintroduced again. The reappearance of the symptoms confirms the diagnosis.
  • Allergy tests are conducted to single out the additive in chocolate causing the symptoms. Tests like skin prick and patch testing are done by allowing the allergen to percolate the skin. The reactions caused by the allergen confirms the allergy.
  • Blood tests like RAST (Radioallergosorbent Test) or the ELISA (Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent assay) are done to look for allergy specific antibodies in the blood sample.

Treatment

  • The first step would be to stop eating the particular chocolate causing the reactions. Read the list of ingredients which can reveal the additive in chocolate one could be allergic to. It is very important to read labels.
  • Antihistamines can help bring quick relief by handling the excess histamine secreted by the mast cells.
  • Decongestants and bronchodilators can help with wheezing and other breathing problems.
  • Atopical ointments can be used for skin rashes and reactions.
  • Corticosteroids can help to bring down inflammation.
  • In anaphylaxis, an emergency dose of the epinephrine needs to be administered.