Do You Have a Chicken Allergy?

Medically reviewed by Alana Biggers, MD, MPH on August 12, 2016Written by Corey Whelan on August 12, 2016

Overview

Low-fat, high-protein chicken is a healthy addition to your diet unless you’re allergic to it. Chicken allergies aren’t common, but they can cause uncomfortable or even dangerous symptoms in some people.

When you have an allergy, your immune system mistakenly identifies the allergen as a dangerous substance. This signals your immune system to create antibodies, called immunoglobulin E. This response can lead to a variety of symptoms ranging from mild to severe.

A chicken allergy can occur in people of any age. You might be allergic to chicken as a child and outgrow it. You might also become allergic to live chickens or to chicken meat after many years of having no allergic reactions. Some people with chicken allergy are allergic to raw but not cooked chicken.

If you suspect you have chicken allergy, a doctor, such as an allergist, can help you find out for sure. You can get a skin-prick or blood test to see if you test positive for this or to other allergens. Once you know what your specific allergies are, you’ll be in a strong position to protect your health without hurting your nutritional intake.

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Symptoms

If you’re allergic to chicken, you may have symptoms immediately upon exposure or up to several hours later. The symptoms include:

  • itchy, swollen, or watery eyes
  • a runny, itchy nose
  • sneezing
  • difficulty breathing
  • scratchy, sore throat
  • coughing or wheezing
  • irritated, red skin, or an eczema-like rash
  • itchy skin
  • hives
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stomach cramps
  • diarrhea
  • anaphylaxis

The symptoms can range from uncomfortable to serious, and they may worsen or lessen with exposure. Your symptoms should clear up once you’re no longer in contact with chicken.

Risk factors

If you have asthma or eczema, you may be more likely to have food allergies, including an allergy to chicken. You may also be at risk for chicken allergy if you’re allergic to:

  • turkey
  • goose
  • duck
  • pheasant
  • partridge
  • fish
  • shrimp

Some people who are allergic to chicken are also allergic to eggs. This is known as bird-egg syndrome. People who have bird-egg syndrome are allergic to a substance found in the yolk of eggs and to chicken serum albumin. If you have bird-egg syndrome, you may also have an increased risk of an allergy to parakeets.

If you’re allergic to chicken, you may also be allergic to live chicken droppings, chicken feathers, and chicken feather dust. This sensitivity can extend to the feathers and droppings of other types of poultry, such as turkey.

Complications

You may mistake a chicken allergy for a cold. This is because some of the symptoms, such as runny nose and sore throat, are the same. You may also experience gastrointestinal distress as your body tries to eliminate the allergen from your system.

The most severe complication is anaphylaxis. This is a serious, whole-body reaction that requires immediate medical attention. The symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • a rapid heartbeat
  • a sudden drop in blood pressure
  • heart palpitations
  • trouble breathing
  • wheezing
  • swelling of the air passages of the throat
  • slurred speech
  • swollen tongue
  • swollen lips
  • a blue tinge around the lips, fingertips, or toes
  • a loss of consciousness

If you’ve ever had an anaphylactic reaction, your doctor will prescribe an EpiPen for you to carry at all times. The EpiPen is a self-injectable form of epinephrine (Adrenalin). It can save your life in the event of an allergic emergency. It doesn’t eliminate the need for follow-up medical support. Call your doctor if you have needed to use an EpiPen for anaphylaxis.

What to avoid

If you have an allergy to chicken, you’ll want to avoid it in everything you eat. Watch out for dishes that contain chicken broth. That is a common ingredient in soups, for example. Chicken has also become popular as a substitute for red meat, so you may find it ground like hamburger meat. Make sure the meatballs, chili, and meatloaf you eat are chicken-free before you dig in.

If you have an allergy to chicken feathers, comforters or pillows containing goose down may trigger an allergic reaction both at home and during travel. Hypoallergenic pillows don’t contain down.

Before taking any vaccines, discuss your allergy with your doctor. Certain vaccines might trigger an allergic reaction, such as the yellow fever vaccine, which contains chicken protein. If you have bird-egg syndrome, you may not be able to take the live influenza vaccine, which has egg protein as an ingredient.

You may want to take extra precautions the next time you visit a petting zoo or farm, especially if you’re allergic to live chickens or waterfowl.

When should you see your doctor?

If you suspect an allergy, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor. They may recommend an over-the-counter antihistamine to treat the symptoms or an elimination diet to determine if chicken is causing your symptoms.

If your allergic reactions are severe, your doctor can work with you on safely managing your allergy. If you experience anaphylaxis, you should seek medical help immediately, even if you use an EpiPen.

Outlook

Life with a chicken allergy can be manageable. You should always be aware of what you’re eating and what other allergic triggers, such as chicken feathers, might be lurking in your environment. As long as you avoid chicken, you’ll remain asymptomatic.

A medical professional, such as an allergist, can help you manage your symptoms and prescribe medications that can help if you accidentally trigger your allergy.

Food substitutes

Avoiding chicken is possible. Try these simple substitutes:

  • Substitute tofu chunks for chicken in soups and stir-fries.
  • Use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.
  • Use veal or soy protein products instead of chicken cutlets in potpies or stews.
  • Experiment with other protein sources, such as fish, pork, or beans. Try using the same seasonings you would use on chicken, but adjust the cooking time for the protein source.
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