Health & Medical Allergies & Asthma

Signs & Symptoms of Fish Allergy


    • Some countries have an even higher incidence of fish allergies than those in the United States --especially when fish is a major part of the diet. For instance, in Scandinavia, where fish is consumed regularly, as much as 15 percent of the population is allergic to fish. Spain and Italy also have high rates of fish allergy.

    Signs & Symptoms

    • Fish allergies, like other food allergies, occur when the immune system perceives food proteins as a threat. The body attempts to protect itself from this supposed threat by releasing chemicals into the blood. These chemicals produce the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

      A reaction to fish may begin with a tingling sensation, intense itching and/or a strange, metallic-like taste in the mouth. It can quickly progress to more severe symptoms. Although every person will react differently, some other symptoms may include hives, feeling warm, wheezing, coughing, vomiting, cramping, and swelling of the mouth and throat. As the reaction progresses, a person may have trouble breathing, get diarrhea, experience a drop in blood pressure and lose consciousness. Left untreated, a severe reaction may cause death.

      Severe allergic reactions to fish are sometimes referred to as anaphylaxis. This means the allergic reaction affected more than two body systems and progressed rapidly. For instance, a skin reaction (such as hives) combined with a respiratory reaction (such as difficulty breathing) would be considered anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is often severe, progresses rapidly and is life threatening.

      Symptoms of an allergic reaction usually begin within minutes of exposure, but may take up to two hours to appear. Mild reactions to fish may only require an antihistamine, like Benadryl, to treat the symptoms. However, most reactions are severe and require immediate medical treatment. Epinephrine, which is an adrenaline, can be used to temporarily reverse the allergic reaction. This drug is available with a prescription and is usually administered with an EpiPen® or Twinject®. Even if symptoms subside after using an EpiPen®, the person needs to seek emergency medical attention right away. It is possible to experience symptoms again after the medication wears off.


    • Most fish allergies are likely to last throughout life. Salmon and cod are responsible for the majority of fish allergies in the United States. However, most doctors recommend that if you are allergic to one type of fish, you avoid all fish. Keep in mind that shrimp, crabs and lobster are not in the fish family. They are shellfish. Likewise, clams, oysters and scallops are not in the fish family either. They are called bivalves. As a result, an allergy to fish does not necessarily mean that you will be allergic to all seafood. Still, it is best to check with your doctor before consuming fish, shellfish and bivalves.


    • There are some hidden sources of fish that need to be avoided by people allergic to fish. For instance, Caesar salad dressings, steak sauces and Worcestershire sauces often contain anchovies. Caponata, a traditional relish, also can contain anchovies. And Surimi, an imitation crabmeat, contains fish.

      Carrageenan, which is often used as an emulsifier and thickener in foods, is not a fish. Even though it is a red, marine algae it is not related to fish or shellfish and does not need to be avoided by those with fish allergies.


    • Avoiding fish is the best way to prevent an allergic reaction. However, this requires more than not eating fish. Fish proteins can become airborne during the cooking process, especially if boiled. So, a seafood restaurant and some Aisan restaurants may not be good choices for those with fish allergies. Cross-contamination risks should also be considered if you are fish allergic. For instance, a non-fish meal at a local seafood restaurant could still come in contact with fish. Fish proteins in the restaurant kitchen may be on the cooking utensils, in the cooking oil or on the grill used to prepare your food. Sometimes this cross-contamination is enough to cause an allergic reaction. In some people, even the smell of fish can trigger an allergic reaction. Therefore, if you are allergic to fish, it is best to avoid fish markets, seafood restaurants, and any other location where the proteins can become airborne or cross-contaminate your food.

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