Spice it Down

Spice allergies are important to identify and manage

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Toothpaste, your favorite pasta dish, a breakfast muffin and a tube of lipstick – what do they all have in common? They all contain spices that some people can be allergic to.

Though spice allergies aren’t very common, they need to be taken as seriously as any other food allergy. Since spices are in so many products in our daily lives, they can be difficult to avoid.

A presentation at a recent meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology provides guidelines for how to identify and manage spice allergies.

"Have allergies? Call a doctor."

James L. Chen, DO, of the Allergy and Immunology Section of the Department of Pediatrics at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, Louisiana led the review to find out how much is known about spice allergies.

The researchers did a search for all articles on spice allergies within the past 20 years within the medical journal database PubMed. They then reviewed each of these studies to collect all of the information that’s known about how to identify, treat and live with spice allergies.

Based on the review of these past studies, the researchers found that 0.04 percent to 0.13 percent adults have spice allergies. This translates to between four and 13 out of every 10,000 people.

Women are more likely to develop this type of allergy because spices are a common ingredient in cosmetics, the researchers found.

Most of the reported symptoms of spice allergies were problems breathing, skin reactions and digestive issues. Very few cases were reported of anaphylactic shock caused by exposure to a spice.

The researchers advise that those with spice allergies should manage their conditions in two steps.

The first step is to treat any symptoms of an allergic reaction. In some serious cases, patients might need to get a self-injectable epinephrine dose, or EpiPen, when they’ve had a history of severe reactions.

The second step is to consult an allergist to find out which spice is causing the allergic reaction.

The main way that doctors determine if you have a spice allergy is by asking a lot of questions about what foods and products you were exposed to before the reaction.

When the doctor has a good idea of what might be causing the reaction, you will be exposed to small quantities of the spice to see whether it is the trigger.

Once the diagnosis is complete, the spice should be strictly avoided.

Avoiding spices can be very difficult, however. Many are included in food and products we are exposed to every day and they’re not always obvious.

The researchers pointed out the following possible sources of allergens:

  • Packaged food: Labels might not always have complete information. Avoid a food that you think might have the spice, even if its not listed as an ingredient.
  • Restaurant meals: Menu descriptions don’t always have accurate or complete ingredient lists. Avoid any dishes that often have the problem spice.

Besides food, there are many other products that contain spices that people with allergies should be aware of.

Toothpaste, dental floss, alcoholic drinks, massage or body oils, cosmetics, perfumes and other fragranced body products often contain spices.

It is recommended that everyone with severe allergic reactions wear MediAlert identification and have the EpiPen readily available.

The study concluded that even though few people seem to be affected by spice allergies, it’s still important to pay attention to them.

“While spice allergy seems to be rare, with the constantly increasing use of spices in the American diet and a variety of cosmetics, we anticipate more and more Americans will develop this allergy,” said co-author Sami Bahna, MD, allergist and former president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

The authors also suggested that more research be conducted on this type of allergy so that better treatments become available.

The study was published online August 5, 2011 in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

The study authors report no conflicts of interest.

As this was a review article it was not supported by any external funding.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 19, 2012
Last Updated:
December 18, 2012