Shellfish Allergy Symptoms

Symptoms of Shellfish Allergy Food Allergies
October 6, 2022
6 minutes Read
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Whether indulging in lobster pasta at a Michelin star restaurant or enjoying a seafood chowder at a local eatery, shellfish dishes are loved by many. 

What is shellfish, though? 

A general term, shellfish, is divided into two categories: crustaceans and mollusks. 

The health benefits of adding shellfish to your diet are vast because they’re loaded with healthy fats, lean protein, and nutrients. 

However, not everyone can eat this kind of seafood. 

According to a study published in NIH, about 6 million, or 2% of Americans, have an allergy to shellfish. 

Shellfish allergy symptoms can be mild or potentially fatal, so dietary caution is crucial if you’re allergic.

What is shellfish? 

Shellfish are creatures that live in salt and freshwater, although most dwell in saltwater. As their name suggests, they have a shell-like or shell exterior. 

While shellfish are available in restaurants and grocery stores worldwide, certain regions are known for their specialties. Maine, for instance, is favored among foodies for its juicy lobster claws. 

Shellfish can be baked, fried, or steamed for eating. However, clams and oysters are often served raw with an accompanying glass of Pinot Grigio.

Flavors range from briny to sweet, depending on the preferred preparation method.

Shellfish are divided into two types: crustacean and mollusk.

1. Crustacean shellfish examples include:

  • Crab
  • Lobster
  • Prawns
  • Shrimp

2. Mollusk shellfish examples include:

  1. Gastropods, such as:
  • Snails
  • Slugs
  • Limpets
  • Periwinkles

2. Cephalopods, such as: 

  • Squid
  • Octopus
  • Cuttlefish

3. Bivalves, such as: 

  • Mussels
  • Oysters
  • Scallops
  • Clams

Shellfish, done right, brings a mouthwatering element to many cuisines. Nevertheless, what if you have a shellfish allergic reaction? Moreover, how can you recognize the symptoms of shellfish allergy?

What are shellfish allergy symptoms? 

If you’ve dined on scallops, shrimp, or other shellfish, and you notice that your mouth becomes itchy, you develop hives, or your stomach hurts, you might be allergic.

Interestingly, crustaceans and mollusks don’t always have the same negative impact. According to the ACAAI, the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, crustaceans are responsible for most allergic reactions. 

Likewise, many people with a shellfish allergic reaction can eat mollusks, like cuttlefish, without any issue. 

That said, individuals vulnerable to adverse symptoms from shellfish should speak with an allergist to ensure they choose safe foods. 

It’s worth noting that shellfish and mollusks are often stored together, leading to cross-contamination. 

If you eat out, inform your server about your dietary restrictions. Restaurants take allergies seriously and should ask if cross-contamination is hazardous for you. 

Symptoms of shellfish allergy include:

  • Blue or pale coloring of the skin
  • Cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing (or shortness of breath)
  • Horse voice (or tight throat)
  • Hives
  • Irritated, itchy skin
  • Indigestion
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, face, throat, or other body parts
  • Repetitive coughing
  • Indigestion
  • Vomiting
  • Weak pulse
  • Wheezing

Likewise, a severe allergic reaction can occur, known as anaphylaxis. 

Anaphylaxis is an extreme and, quite possibly, life-threatening response to a trigger, like shellfish. 

Anaphylaxis can cause different symptoms, such as:

  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Dizziness
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Clammy skin
  • Lightheadedness or confusion

If you’re prone to anaphylaxis after consuming shellfish, experts strongly suggest that you have an emergency plan.

FARE, an organization that educates on allergies, offers a printable action plan to forward to anyone who might help you in an emergency, such as a school nurse, physician, or spouse. 

How to diagnose shellfish allergy? 

Do you want to find out if you’re allergic to shellfish?

If you think you might be allergic to this water dweller, speak to your doctor asap. Your healthcare provider will inquire about symptoms and rule out other medical issues.

Remember, diagnosing an allergy to shellfish isn’t always black and white because reactions can vary. Moreover, people might not experience the same symptoms during every allergic reaction. 

Also, some individuals can have adverse symptoms when they’re physically near shellfish being cooked.

A shellfish allergy test is the only surefire way to diagnose.

Your allergist or healthcare provider may suggest either of the following tests:

  1. Blood test:
  • A small amount of blood is tested to measure your immune system’s response to shellfish (or other allergens).
  • The test measures the amount of IgE antibodies in your blood. 
  • IgE antibodies are proteins your immune system makes to identify and remove health threats. 
  • Our blood usually has trace amounts of IgE antibodies. But it has higher amounts of IgE when the body overreacts to allergens.
  • Results from the blood test are usually available within one or two weeks, explains the ACAAI. 

2. Skin prick test: 

  • A tiny amount of the protein from shellfish is pricked into your upper back or arm. 
  • After, you’re observed to see if an allergic reaction takes place. 
  • If you are allergic, you’ll likely notice hives on the spot where the skin prick occurred. 
  • Be prepared to wait about 15 minutes for results. 
  • Allergy specialists are often best suited to perform this test.

Can you test for shellfish intolerance at home? 

Yes, you can! We offer a comprehensive Food Sensitivity Test via Ravkoo Lab. 

To get started:

  1. Download the Ravkoo Health app.
  2. Access Ravkoo Lab with the app.
  3. Order your Food Sensitivity Test to be delivered to your doorstep.
  4. Complete the test using the directions and mail it in.
  5. View your results from within the app.
  6. Share your results with a doctor or allergist with your consent. 

The Food Sensitivity Lab tests for 96 different sensitivities, including shellfish. The best part is that you can take the test and receive results from the comfort of your home.

Important note:

Food allergies differ from food sensitivities, so book a consultation with a doctor or allergist to ensure you get the right test. 

What is the treatment? 

If you find out that you’re allergic to shellfish, the best management tool is to avoid it. 

Here are some tips to steer clear of shellfish:

  1. Read ingredients and labels on food products.
  2. Learn other names that shellfish ingredients might have.
  3. Cook at home, so you’re fully aware of meal ingredients and preparation.
  4. Alert restaurant staff when eating out.
  5. Call a restaurant ahead of time to check if non-shellfish meals are available. 
  6. When in doubt, don’t eat the meal.

If you’re severely allergic to shellfish, you’ll want to carry an epinephrine injectible, such as:

  •  EpiPen 
  • Avuvi-Q (among others)

After using an EpiPen, seek emergency medical care immediately, even if you feel better. Lastly, check the expiry date on your EpiPen to ensure it’s still good.

Final thoughts:

Shellfish allergies are common, but that doesn’t minimize the risk. 

Get immediate testing if you’re concerned about a shellfish sensitivity or allergy. Some people can have an allergic reaction if their food even touches shellfish. Practice caution and avoid it as best you can!

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