Coconut is often hailed as the ultimate health food. But coconut, just like any other food, can be dangerous if you’re allergic to it.

Coconut oil allergies are not as prevalent as other types of allergies, such as peanut allergies, but they do occur.

The symptoms of a coconut oil allergy are similar to any other type of allergic reaction and can include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • hives
  • eczema
  • diarrhea
  • rash
  • anaphylaxis, a life-threatening emergency involving wheezing and trouble breathing

Anaphylactic reactions to coconut and coconut oil are very rare.

Contact reactions are also called contact dermatitis. They usually result in more mild symptoms, such as a skin rash or blistering on the skin. Contact dermatitis cases are more common with products that touch the skin and contain coconut oil, such as lotion or beauty aids.

Coconut oil allergies are rare, and the coconut protein is unique. This uniqueness limits cases of cross allergies, which occur when someone with an existing allergy has an allergic reaction to other foods with similar proteins. For example, people with peanut allergies might also experience allergy symptoms if they eat soy products. However, there have been a few cases of children with tree nut allergies later developing coconut allergies.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies coconut as a tree nut for food labeling purposes, but technically it’s not. Coconut is actually classified as a fruit, not as a botanical nut. Most people who have tree nut allergies can safely eat coconut.

A study by the European Society of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology found that children who had tree nut or peanut allergies or sensitivities were not more likely to be sensitive to coconut. To be safe, if your child has a severe allergy to tree nuts, you should speak to your doctor before letting them try coconut. They can give you tips on how to safely introduce it to your child.

Coconut can be hidden in certain products, so if you or your child has a coconut allergy, you will need to read labels to make sure the food you are purchasing or eating does not contain coconut oil.

Food items that may contain coconut oil

  • movie-theater popcorn
  • cake
  • chocolate
  • candy
  • infant formula

Coconut oil is also a common ingredient in many cosmetics. Check the labels of cosmetics before you buy them.

If you’re having mild allergic symptoms, such as hives or a rash, and you suspect that an allergy to coconut may be the culprit, it’s helpful to start a food diary to track your diet and symptoms before speaking to your doctor or an allergy specialist. List all foods you eat, including any cooking products. For example, if you cook with coconut oil, write that down too. Write down your symptoms and when they start in relation to the food you eat. For example, if you eat chicken cooked in coconut oil, then break out in hives one hour after your meal, be sure to write that down.

You should also write down any products you use regularly that may contain an ingredient you are allergic to. Include any recent changes in your lifestyle, such as adding a new beauty treatment or changing your laundry detergent.

While keeping track of your food and reactions, schedule an appointment with an allergy specialist or ask your primary doctor for a referral. You will receive allergy testing that will give you a clearer answer on whether you are allergic to coconut or coconut oil.

However, if you’re having an immediate reaction and are having trouble breathing, be sure to call 911 and seek medical attention right away.

If you do have a coconut or coconut oil allergy, there are plenty of resources available online to help you navigate the practical challenges it creates. The first thing you can do is start checking labels and avoid coconut products or foods cooked in coconut oil. You should also be sure to check any beauty products you use on your skin.