White potatoes are a common staple of the American diet. A widely-grown agricultural crop, potatoes have a place on the plate from breakfast to dinner. They’re also used to make a variety of snack foods.
While uncommon, a potato allergy can affect both children and adults. It can occur for the first time at any age. People can be allergic to both raw and cooked potatoes.
If you’re allergic to potatoes, your immune system perceives the proteins, alkaloids, and other substances in them as potentially dangerous invaders. In an effort to fight them off, your body produces an overabundance of histamine and antibodies. This internal struggle can result in an uncomfortable, or even dangerous, allergic reaction.
Symptoms of a potato allergy range from mild to serious. They may affect the skin, respiratory system, and digestive tract. A potato allergy can also trigger a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.
If you have a potato allergy, you may experience an allergic reaction immediately upon touching or tasting potato. This reaction can also occur up to several hours later.
While cutting or peeling potatoes, you may experience a rash on your hands. If you take a bite of food containing potato, you may also feel a tingling sensation on your lips.
Typical symptoms include:
- runny nose
- watery, swollen, or itchy eyes
- sore or scratchy throat
- itchy skin or an eczema-like rash
- swelling of the mouth, tongue, or throat
- difficulty breathing
- tingling on the lips
- rapid heartbeat
- a drop in blood pressure
Risk factors to consider
The potato is a member of the nightshade plant family. Also called the Solanaceae plant family, this includes many vegetables and plants. If you have a potato allergy, you may also be allergic to other plants in this family.
Other potential allergens include:
- peppers, including chili peppers, bell peppers, and pimientos
- spices, including red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, and paprika
- goji berries
Sometimes, an allergy to a substance other than food will make you more susceptible to a food allergy, such as a potato allergy. This is called cross reactivity. It occurs when two different things share similar proteins.
If you’re allergic to birch pollen, you may also be allergic to raw potato. Other cross reactive allergies include grass pollen, latex, and cooked potato.
If you have a potato allergy, you’ll typically experience symptoms that respond readily to medication. Sometimes, a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis may occur.
Anaphylaxis can begin with mild allergy symptoms, such as a stuffy nose, watery eyes, or hives. Most allergic reactions don’t escalate to anaphylaxis, though they must be monitored carefully to prevent its occurrence. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.
Additional symptoms of anaphylaxis may include:
- flushed or pale skin
- swelling in the throat
- swollen tongue
- sensation of heat throughout the body
- rapid, weak pulse
- trouble breathing
If you’re allergic to potatoes, you’ll need to become a label reader. Potato is used as an ingredient in a number of surprising places. For example:
- Dried, cooked potato is sometimes used as a thickener in processed foods, such as soup or stew.
- Potato flour may be used as a substitute for wheat flour in pre-packaged foods or in restaurants.
- Modified potato starch can be found in a wide range of products, including some candies.
- Shredded cheese may contain potato starch.
- Many types of vodka are made from potato.
Potato is also used as an ingredient in herbal medicine to soothe an upset stomach and as a topical treatment to reduce skin inflammation and boils. If you have a potato allergy, double-check the ingredient list of all over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements you use. You should also have your pharmacist add your allergy to your records as a safeguard.
Allergic reactions can range from annoyingly uncomfortable to life-threatening. Either way, your doctor can recommend medications and a course of action that may alleviate or eliminate your symptoms.
If you experience skin irritations, hives, or flu-like symptoms, over-the-counter antihistamine medications may provide relief. If your symptoms escalate, or if you’ve ever experienced anaphylactic shock, your doctor may prescribe an EpiPen for you to carry at all times. EpiPens deliver adrenalin via self-injection and may stop severe allergic reactions from escalating.
Being proactive can help you manage your potato allergy. You should become very familiar with the foods that may contain potato as an ingredient. When dining out, be sure to request recipe information. A good rule of thumb: When in doubt, don’t eat it.
It helps to understand your allergy thoroughly. If you’re allergic to raw potato, you shouldn’t handle it or prepare it for others. You should also be aware of your cross-reactive allergies, and avoid any substance that may trigger an allergic reaction.
Substituting healthy vegetables for potato dishes, from mashed to fried, has become quite popular. Avocado and yucca make for crunchy and delicious French fries. You can also prepare nutrition-rich and tasty mashed “potatoes” from creamy cauliflower.