Whether it’s hot or iced, caffeinated or herbal, nothing is more soothing than a cup of tea — unless you’re allergic to it.

Tea allergies, while not unheard of, are rare. More commonly, people experience a sensitivity, or intolerance, to tea.

In this article, we’ll go over the differences between tea allergies and tea sensitivities. We’ll also discuss the various ingredients of tea that may spark allergic reactions, as well as tea alternatives.

Like all allergies, tea allergies create an immune response. This occurs when your body mistakenly perceives a substance as dangerous and tries to fight it off by producing antibodies. When triggered, these antibodies cause specific symptoms to occur.

If you have an allergy to tea, your symptoms may include:

  • hives
  • tingling or itching sensation in the mouth
  • swelling of the lips, throat, tongue, or face
  • anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency

Anaphylaxis is a rare, severe type of allergic reaction. It’s potentially life threatening and a medical emergency.

If you or someone around you has symptoms of anaphylaxis, call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately.

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Allergy vs. sensitivity

The symptoms of tea intolerance or sensitivity differ somewhat from those of tea allergy. If you have an intolerance or sensitivity to tea, your symptoms may include:

Teas are categorized as either herbal or nonherbal. You may be allergic or sensitive to components found in either or both types.

If you have an allergy to any component found in tea, you should avoid it completely. If you have a sensitivity to these compounds, you may be able to tolerate them in small amounts, particularly if your tea is only lightly brewed.

Nonherbal tea

Nonherbal teas — which include black, green, oolong, and white teas — contain varying amounts of the same components. It’s these components that cause allergic reactions or sensitivity in some people.

Components of nonherbal tea that can spark an allergic reaction include:

If you’re allergic to caffeine, avoid black tea.

One 2016 study found black tea contains the highest caffeine content of all nonherbal teas. Green tea was found to contain the most tannin, and both white and green tea contained more theanine than black tea.

Herbal tea

Herbal teas are made from the roots, leaves, stems, and flowers of an almost uncountable number of botanicals.

When choosing any herbal tea, make sure to read the ingredients list, so you can avoid substances you’re allergic or sensitive to.

Here are some of the different families of flower that may cause an allergic reaction for some people when used in tea.

Asteraceae family

There are several popular teas that are part of the Asteraceae (daisy) family.

One of these teas is chamomile. In rare cases, chamomile has been linked to allergic reactions when ingested or used topically.

If you’re allergic to any flowers or pollens in this family, you may be allergic or sensitive to chamomile. Flowers in this family include:

  • ragweed
  • daisies
  • marigolds
  • chrysanthemums

Echinacea is another botanical in the Asteraceae family that’s used to make tea. It may also cause allergic reactions in some people.

Malvaceae family

Hibiscus is a member of the Malvaceae family and may cause allergic reactions in people who are allergic to other plants in this family, such as hollyhocks.

Hibiscus also contains tannins and may cause a reaction to people with a tannin allergy.

For those people who find themselves living with a tea allergy, there are options available.

Try a different tea

There’s a dizzying array of both herbal and nonherbal teas to choose from. Chances are, if you’re allergic to one kind of tea, you’ll be able to enjoy another.

Try switching from herbal to nonherbal tea or vice versa. You may also swap out black tea for green, or you may try white tea if caffeine is a concern.

Adjust the steeping time

The length of time you brew any cup of tea will affect the quantity of allergens it contains.

If you have only a mild sensitivity to tea elements such as tannins, a light dunk instead of a long steep may be all you need in order to enjoy your favorite type.

Pick a different drink

Unfortunately, some people may not be able to drink tea at all based on their allergies. If this is the case, there are still ways to get the benefits of tea from other beverages.

Many herbal teas contain beneficial ingredients, like antioxidants. If you’re unable to tolerate most kinds of tea, you can also opt for drinks such as pomegranate or tomato juice.

On a hot day, ice water with lemon, lime, or cucumber slices can easily be swapped in for iced tea.

Tea allergies are rare, but they’ve been known to occur.

Nonherbal teas contain caffeine, tannins, and other components that can cause allergic reactions in some people. There are many types of herbal tea, some of which contain tannins and other compounds that can cause allergic reactions.

Herbal teas contain herbs that may come from families of flowers that are associated with allergic reactions in many people. The herbal tea most commonly linked to allergic reactions is chamomile.

If you’re allergic to one type of tea, you may be able to tolerate other types. Always read the ingredient label so that you can identify possible allergens.