Shrimp allergy is a sad reality for some people. While most of us who love shrimp can eat them without reservation, we must face the fact that some unfortunate souls suffer from this problem.
As you are aware, shrimp is a shellfish and shellfish allergies are the most common allergy among adults in America. What's more, these allergies are more likely than most other allergies to show up for the first time in adults. Shrimp is considered the most allergenic but there is a high rate of allergic cross-reactivity between mollusks and crustaceans (which include shrimp), so if a person has an allergy to one it is quite possible there could be an allergy to the other group.
The protein that most commonly causes these allergies (tropomyosin) is also found in dust mites and cockroaches, and there is some reason to believe that people allergic to shellfish may also be allergic to certain insects.
The most common symptoms of shrimp allergy are hives (urticaria) and major redness and swelling below the skin (angioedema). Shrimp allergies can also cause anaphylactic shock.
Reactions are reported to be mostly within 2 hours after ingestion or handling of seafood, or even inhaling cooking vapors. The more common symptoms include skin, stomach and respiratory problems. Respiratory problems are very common after inhaling fish or crustacean vapors, such as from cooking.
Shrimp Allergies and Supplements
A possible source of the same allergens which bother people allergic to shrimp are Omega-3 supplements, which are often made from seafood. The most common source used to manufacture these is fish (mostly cod liver), but check ingredients on the label before you take these.
People who are allergic to shrimp should also avoid:
- Crawfish (Crayfish or Crawdads)
- Sea Urchin
Also, because of the risk of cross-reactivity with mollusks, unless otherwise by an allergist, people with shrimp allergy should avoid the following mollusks:
- Squid (Calimari)
- Snails (Escargot)
Shrimp and Labeling Laws
Because shellfish are so common allergens in the United States, the FDA requires that the presence of shellfish be listed on labels in clear English, either in bold type or following the list of ingredients after the word "Contains." Shellfish are not a common ingredient which might appear under unusual names in ingredient lists, so reading labels for shellfish is relatively simple.
Foods Containing Shellfish
Shellfish are generally easier to avoid than most other most common allergens. You may want to watch for them in Worcestershire sauce, salad dressings, and other prepared sauces. Also, be aware that surimi (imitation shellfish) often contains shellfish extracts for flavoring and is often unsuitable for allergies.
Apart from eating at restaurants, the greatest challenge in living with shrimp allergy is likely the fact that shellfish allergies pose a greater risk of anaphylactic shock than many food allergies.
So if you suffer from shellfish allergies, speak with your allergist about their risk of anaphylaxis and find out what to do in case of anaphylactic shock. If you are prescribed epinephrine, you should carry with you all the time.
Eating Out with Shellfish Allergies
Eating at almost any Asian restaurant, whether Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, or Malaysian, is likely to be challenging if you have a shellfish allergy because of the considerable amount shellfish consumed in those cultures and because of the high risk of cross-contamination.
If you do plan to eat East Asian food, pay particular attention to condiments, which are among the most likely ingredients to include shellfish. Thai kapi and nam prik, Vietnamese mam tom, and Chinese dried shellfish are among the most common shellfish-derived condiments in these cuisines, but other sauces may include hidden shellfish.
The two greatest risks in Japanese restaurants are cross-contamination at sushi bars and aerosolized seafood proteins and cross-contamination at hibachi-style (communal grill) restaurants.
Seafood-only restaurants have a similarly high risk of cross-contamination, as many keep fish and shellfish in close proximity and cook these foods on the same grills.
Fried foods at restaurants may be fried in the same oil as fish; so the chicken and the French fries may be fried in the same oil as the shrimp.
Because seafood is fairly expensive, its presence is often indicated on restaurant menus, but never assume; always ask the waiter. Menu terms that imply a particularly high likelihood of shellfish include:
- Bouillabase (a French fish soup)
- A L'Americaine (a French sauce often served with lobster or other shellfish)
- Crevette (the French term for shrimp)
- Ceviche (fish/shellfish pickled in an acidic citrus-based marinade)
In conclusion, shrimp allergy is one of the most common allergies around. Even for shrimp lovers, we need to be aware of the possibility that our dinner guests or companions on a night out might suffer from it and be prepared to modify our plans accordingly.
If you need more detailed information see Shellfish Allergies (opens a new window to an external site).