Shellfish Allergy: Symptoms, Remedies & Treatment

Food allergies can sometimes worsen to such an extent that it may cause the death of an individual. Some common foods that cause allergies are milk, eggs, tree nuts, fish, wheat, soybeans and shellfish. But, shellfish tops the list of food allergies. In this article, we will write about what causes shellfish allergy, symptoms, and its remedies.

shellfish allergy

What Is Shellfish Allergy And What Causes It?

Shellfish is divided into two main categories - crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, crawfish, shrimp, krill and prawns) and molluscs (squid, octopus, scallops, clams, mussels and oysters).

In a decreasing frequency, the most common types of shellfish allergy are caused due to shrimps, crabs, lobster, clams, oysters and mussels [1] . According to the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), about 60 per cent of people with shellfish allergy experience their first allergic reaction as adults.

Shellfish allergies occur when the immune system responds to a muscle protein called tropomyosin present in different species of shellfish [2] . After which the antibodies start releasing chemicals like histamine to attack the tropomyosin resulting in allergy symptoms.

Symptoms Of Shellfish Allergy

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the symptoms of shellfish allergy are:

  • stomach pain
  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting
  • indigestion
  • hives
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • repetitive cough
  • swelling in the mouth
  • dizziness
  • pale colouring of the skin
  • weak pulse.

To prevent the symptoms from worsening, these are some of the remedies that you could try.

Remedies For Shellfish Allergy

1. Ginger

Ginger possesses anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant and analgesic properties [3] . If your food allergy symptom is stomach-related disorders like vomiting, nausea and diarrhoea, then ginger is the spice that can bring relief. It can reduce the itchy skin and strengthen the immune system.

  • Drink 2 to 3 cups of ginger tea for a few days until you get relief.

2. Lemons and limes

Lemons and limes are a great home remedy for treating shellfish allergy. The presence of vitamin C and other antioxidants help in boosting up the immune system [4] . It will help to get rid of the impurities and toxins out of the system.

  • Drink a cold glass of lemon water throughout the day.

3. Probiotics

When the allergic reactions start showing, it is advisable to have probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, tempeh, kimchi, etc. Having these foods will help you to overcome stomach pain and diarrhoea, a common symptom of shellfish allergy. It will further aid in maintaining healthy bacteria in the gut [5] .

  • Consume a cup of unsweetened yogurt as it will help soothe your stomach.

4. MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane)

MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) is a sulphur chemical compound with anti-inflammatory properties. It is found in foods such as coffee, tea, milk, tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, leafy green veggies, apples, raspberries, and whole grains. This compound is effective in soothing allergy symptoms. Sufficient amounts of MSM in your body will soften the cell walls, enabling the body to flush out foreign particles from the body.

Without sufficient amounts of MSM, the cell walls become hard which stops the fluid flow through the cell walls and doesn't allow the allergens to move out from the body.

  • Incorporate MSM foods in your diet to reduce the symptoms.
shellfish allergy symptoms infographic

5. Vitamin B5 rich foods

Vitamin B5, also known as pantothenic acid, is known to quickly reduce allergy symptoms. This vitamin is found in foods like meat, grains, dairy products, legumes, etc. People suffering from shellfish allergy can have vitamin B5 foods to support adrenal function, strengthen the immune system, controls nasal congestion, and keeps the digestive tract intact.

6. Garlic

This spice can lower the symptoms of shellfish allergy by strengthening your immune system and making it resistant to food allergens due to its antioxidant and antiallergic activities [6] . Garlic is an antihistamine food which has the potent ability to help relieve shellfish allergy symptoms like difficulty in breathing, stuffy nose, and sneezing. Having garlic will slow down the reactive process of the chemical histamine so that it doesn't become severe.

  • Add fresh garlic in vegetable soups, stews, and rice.

7. L-glutamine Rich Foods

L-glutamine is an amino acid that can help boost immune health and treat leaky gut syndrome by boosting immune cell activity in the gut, thereby preventing infection and inflammation. The glutamine compound has the mechanistic ability to stop inflammation and oxidative stress [7] .

  • Have foods like white rice, corn, cabbage rich in L-glutamine.

8. Green tea

Green tea is a beverage with antihistamine properties that can help reduce allergy symptoms. It is because of the EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), an abundant antioxidant found in green tea which helps in strengthening the immune system against fighting the food allergens. It will fight symptoms like sneezing, watery eyes and wheezing [8] .

  • Drink 2 to 3 cups of green tea daily.

Diagnosis Of Shellfish Allergy

Diagnosing shellfish allergy is complicated as the symptoms may vary from person to person. An individual can have an allergic reaction not only by eating shellfish but also by coming in contact with it.

When the allergic reaction comes up, it's important to consult an allergist. The allergist will do a couple of tests such as a blood test, and perform skin-prick tests to show whether food-specific immunoglobin E antibodies are in the body or not.

An allergist might ask questions like how much you ate, the history of food allergy, how long it took for the symptoms to show up and how long it lasted.

He or she will also give tips on how to manage exposure and symptoms of shellfish allergy once diagnosed.

Treating Shellfish Allergy

If there is a severe allergic reaction, epinephrine is the foremost treatment for anaphylaxis, a rare allergic reaction which causes serious symptoms like trouble in breathing, hives, tightness of the throat, stomach pain, reduction in blood pressure, and rapid heartbeat. Anaphylaxis is deadly and can happen within seconds of exposure.

The allergist will prescribe you an auto-injector epinephrine and will teach you how to use it. This should be used immediately whenever you experience severe symptoms. There are common side effects of epinephrine including anxiety, restlessness, shakiness and dizziness so, if you have any pre-existing conditions, speak to your allergist.

Managing Shellfish Allergy

  • The most primary thing is to avoid seafood and be careful when eating out at restaurants.
  • Watch out for food labels that have seafood as an ingredient.
  • Be careful with fish stock and fish sauce as they contain fish protein.
  • Stay out of the kitchen area where the seafood is cooking as you might be sensitive to the protein that is released into the air.

What Is Shellfish Poisoning And How Is It Different From Shellfish Allergy

Research has shown that shellfish poisoning occurs if the seafood is contaminated with bacteria or most commonly viruses [9] . Consumption of contaminated shellfish like crabs, clams, shrimps, oysters, dried fish and salted raw fish will cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and stomach pain and the effect of shellfish poisoning starts after 4 to 48 hours of eating.

Whereas, shellfish allergy occurs when the immune system reacts differently to the protein tropomyosin present in shellfish.

To Conclude...

If you are allergic to shellfish there are other food alternatives to choose from like grass-fed beef, beans, lentils, chicken, chicken liver and eggs as they are all protein-rich foods.

View Article References
  1. [1] Woo, C. K., & Bahna, S. L. (2011). Not all shellfish "allergy" is allergy!.Clinical and translational allergy,1(1), 3.
  2. [2] Yadzir, Z. H., Misnan, R., Bakhtiar, F., Abdullah, N., & Murad, S. (2015). Tropomyosin, the major tropical oyster Crassostrea belcheri allergen and effect of cooking on its allergenicity.Allergy, asthma, and clinical immunology : official journal of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology,11, 30.
  3. [3] Mashhadi, N. S., Ghiasvand, R., Askari, G., Hariri, M., Darvishi, L., & Mofid, M. R. (2013). Anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of ginger in health and physical activity: review of current evidence.International journal of preventive medicine,4(Suppl 1), S36-42.
  4. [4] Carr, A., & Maggini, S. (2017). Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients, 9(11), 1211.
  5. [5] Adolfsson, O., Meydani, S. N., & Russell, R. M. (2004). Yogurt and gut function. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 80(2), 245–256.
  6. [6] Kim, J. H., Nam, S. H., Rico, C. W., & Kang, M. Y. (2012). A comparative study on the antioxidative and anti-allergic activities of fresh and aged black garlic extracts. International Journal of Food Science & Technology, 47(6), 1176–1182.
  7. [7] Rapin, J. R., & Wiernsperger, N. (2010). Possible links between intestinal permeability and food processing: A potential therapeutic niche for glutamine.Clinics (Sao Paulo, Brazil),65(6), 635–43.
  8. [8] American Chemical Society. (2002, September 19). Green Tea May Fight Allergies.
  9. [9] Lopata, A. L., O’Hehir, R. E., & Lehrer, S. B. (2010). Shellfish allergy. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 40(6), 850–858.
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