Sesame allergies may not receive as much publicity as peanut allergies, but the reactions can be just as serious. Allergic reactions to sesame seeds or sesame oil can cause anaphylaxis.
An anaphylactic reaction occurs when your body’s immune system releases high levels of certain potent chemicals. These chemicals can induce anaphylactic shock. When you are in shock, your blood pressure drops and your airways constrict, making it difficult to breath.
Prompt, emergency medical attention is essential if you or someone you know has an allergic reaction to sesame. If caught in time, most food allergies can be treated without lasting consequences.
The number of people with a sesame allergy has risen in recent years. If you have a sensitivity to sesame, you’re not alone.
The increase in sesame allergies in recent years may be due in part to the growing number of products containing sesame seeds and sesame oil. Sesame oil is considered a healthy cooking oil and is used in various food preparations including certain vegetarian dishes, salad dressings, and many Middle Eastern and Asian dishes. The popularity of international cuisine may also be fueling the rise in sesame allergies.
Sesame oil is also used in many pharmaceutical items, as well as cosmetics and skin lotions. Ironically, sesame oil is used in these products because sesame produces little if any immune system response in most people.
Even if you’re careful, you may still come into contact with sesame. Here are some common symptoms to watch out for if you have a sesame allergy:
- difficulty breathing
- low pulse rate
- itchiness inside the mouth
- abdominal pain
- flushing in the face
If you have a reaction and suspect a food allergy, make a note of what you consumed just prior to your reaction. This will help the emergency healthcare provider and allergist narrow down the possible causes of the reaction and find an appropriate treatment.
A food challenge is often necessary to pinpoint the cause of the reaction. During a food challenge, a person is fed a small amount of the suspected food, followed by increasingly larger amounts, until a diagnosis can be made based on the reaction.
An injected dose of epinephrine (adrenalin) may be needed for a serious reaction. Epinephrine can usually reverse the course of an anaphylactic response. You may need to carry an auto-injector that contains epinephrine, like an EpiPen, if you have a sesame allergy. This will allow you to inject epinephrine into your arm or leg within moments of a reaction starting and, ultimately, might save your life.
Some foods such as bread products containing sesame, sesame oil, and tahini, specifically list sesame as an ingredient. Avoiding contact with these items is a simple way to prevent an allergic reaction.
Sesame is a common hidden allergen, however. It’s not always listed on the food labels of products that contain it. Avoid foods that have product labels that are unclear or don’t specify ingredients.
In some parts of the world, labeling laws require the identification of sesame as an ingredient in any product. The European Union, Australia, Canada, and Israel are among the regions where sesame is considered a major food allergen and must be specifically included on labels.
In the United States, sesame isn’t one of the top eight allergens included in the 2004 Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act. There has been a push in recent years to have the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revisit the issue and elevate sesame’s profile. This could increase product labeling of sesame and help educate others about the risks of sesame allergies.
In the meantime, it’s important to do your research and only consume foods you know are safe.
If you have an allergy to sesame, you may also have allergies to other seeds and nuts. Allergies to hazelnuts and rye grain may accompany a sesame allergy. You may also be sensitive to tree nuts like walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and Brazil nuts.
Being allergic to sesame can be a bother because of the foods you have to avoid. But there are plenty of other healthy oils and products that don’t contain sesame or related allergens. You may have to play detective when reading labels or ordering in restaurants, but you can enjoy a wide variety of foods without ever having to set foot on Sesame Street.
If you have a sesame allergy, you can reduce your odds of having an allergic reaction by avoiding products that contain sesame seeds or sesame oil. Sesame seeds and sesame seed oil are widely used, however, so avoiding them completely takes vigilance on your part.