Managing a food allergy is a daily and lifelong commitment. Up to 15 million people have at least one food allergy, and an estimated 6 million of those people are children.
Food allergies involve an immune reaction. When you have a food allergy, your body mistakenly sees proteins in that food as harmful to you. In response, it launches a defense to protect you. It’s that “defense” that causes allergy symptoms. The symptoms can range from hives to anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.
Eight foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies:
- tree nuts
Seed allergies are less common than allergies to peanuts or tree nuts. However, according to John Williams, MD, an allergy and immunology specialist at Kaiser Permanente in Colorado, a sunflower seed allergy tends to mimic a peanut allergy in many ways.
Common symptoms of sunflower seed allergy are similar to many other allergies, including peanut allergy. Symptoms range from mild to severe and can include:
- itchy mouth
- unsettled stomach
Risk factors for a potential sunflower allergy vary wildly. A family history of the allergy and exposure to sunflowers could increase your risk, says Williams.
Having another food allergy, particularly a peanut allergy, may make you more likely to be allergic to other nuts and seeds, such as sunflower seeds.
In general, children are more prone to food allergies than adults.
Currently, no cure exists for food allergies. Strict avoidance is recommended until your allergist says otherwise. For this reason, some food allergies can be more challenging than others.
You may grow out of your allergy if you’re allergic to:
If you’re allergic to nuts, seeds, shellfish, or peanuts, you will likely have the allergy for life.
Sunflower ingredients are not as common as egg ingredients, but sunflower can easily hide in food and beauty products.
If you have a sunflower allergy, you should use caution when using the following:
Sunflower butter is a relatively new addition to food shelves. People with peanut or tree nut allergies have switched to this as a safe alternative. It’s important to note that it looks like peanut butter. Make sure you know what it is and how to spot it so you can steer clear.
In this case, knowing where to avoid the seeds is important. At baseball parks, for example, they can be everywhere. Some allergies can trigger a reaction from contact or even inhalation. You’ll want to be extra careful while attending a ballgame.
Sunflower seeds may also be found in breads, granola, or cereals. Make sure you carefully read the ingredients on these products.
Sunflower can hide in different oils, so be sure to check labels. Sunflower seed oil may be safe for some people with the allergy if it’s highly processed. Processing can remove the offending proteins that cause a reaction. You should ask your doctor before trying these foods. Avoid cold-pressed oils.
Sunflower seed oil is a common ingredient in many cosmetic and personal care products, such as shampoo, cosmetics, and lotions. You’ll want to inspect your cosmetics and bath products closely to make sure your next bath or beauty session won’t trigger an allergic reaction.
Sunflower seeds are a favorite food for many birds. If you have a pet bird or come into contact with birdseed that contains sunflower seeds, you should ask your doctor if it’s safe to handle.
Depending on your allergy, you may want to avoid contact with sunflowers, too. Ask your doctor at your next appointment.
Williams says the most important thing you can do is to be prepared. Schedule an appointment with an allergist if you suspect you may have a sunflower allergy.
If you do have a sunflower allergy, your doctor might tell you to carry epinephrine (EpiPen), which is an autoinjector of medication to treat anaphylaxis. Even if your symptoms to sunflower have been minor in the past, there’s no guarantee a reaction won’t be more severe next time. It may seem like an annoyance, but carrying around an EpiPen could save your life.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the intricacies of managing a food allergy, take a deep breath and look online. There are multiple resources that can offer support. FARE has a Most Popular Resources list and a tool to find a support group near you. Kids With Food Allergies also offers online chat forums, a food allergy blog, and a calendar of community events.
Facebook and other social media sites have online support groups. If you have specific questions, speak with your doctor.
There are 15 million people in the same boat as you. Managing a food allergy isn’t easy, but a support network can help, whether you’re looking for cooking tips, avoidance strategies, or a place to share your experiences with others.