Q: I have severe allergic reactions to all of the onion family including garlic, cooked or raw. I’ve since met others with this sensitivity. Is garlic allergy becoming common in North America?
Dr. Sharma: Very few studies have examined the prevalence of allergy to spices, such as garlic. Based on available findings, spice allergy appears quite rare – estimated to affect between 4 and 13 of every 10,000 adults. Therefore, garlic allergy would be even rarer.
However, one study published in 2014 suggests that the worldwide production of onion and garlic increased by 25 percent in the prior 10 years, contributing to an increase in rates of allergy to those foods.
Differing Reactions with Garlic Allergy
With garlic allergy, reactions might manifest as immediate allergic symptoms, as in your case, or delayed eczema-type skin rashes in areas of contact (called contact dermatitis). Cases of respiratory reactions have also been described among people who have occupational exposure.
For some with garlic allergy, the reactions only occur after exposure to raw garlic because they are allergic to a component of the protein that breaks down with heat. Others, like you, are allergic to both raw and heated forms.
Since garlic is not a top allergen, be mindful that it may not be listed on a food label, but rather covered under term, such as “spice blend” or “flavoring”.
Hopefully, as research progresses, we will learn more about garlic allergy and other rarer forms of food allergy.
Dr. Sharma is an allergist, clinical researcher and associate professor of pediatrics. He is Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C. and Director of the Food Allergy Program. He co-authors “The Food Allergy Experts” column in Allergic Living‘s e-magazine. Questions submitted will be considered for answer in the e-magazine.
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