Allergies to mint aren’t common. When they do occur, the allergic reaction can range from mild to severe and life-threatening.
Mint is the name of a group of leafy plants that includes peppermint, spearmint, and wild mint. Oil from these plants, especially peppermint oil, is used to add flavor to candy, gum, liquor, ice cream, and many other foods. It’s also used to add flavor to things like toothpaste and mouthwash and to add scent to perfumes and lotions.
The oil and leaves of the mint plant have been used as herbal medicine for quite a few conditions, including soothing an upset stomach or relieving a headache.
Some of the substances in these plants are anti-inflammatory and can be used to help allergy symptoms, but they also contain other substances that can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction can occur when you eat something with mint or have skin contact with the plant.
Symptoms that may occur when mint is consumed by someone who is allergic are similar to those of other food allergies. Symptoms include:
- mouth tingling or itching
- swollen lips and tongue
- swollen, itchy throat
- abdominal pain
- nausea and vomiting
The allergic reaction from mint touching the skin is called contact dermatitis. Skin that touches mint may develop:
- itchiness, often severe
- tenderness or pain
- blisters that ooze clear fluid
A severe allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis. This is a life-threatening medical emergency that can happen suddenly. It requires immediate medical treatment. Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- severely swollen lips, tongue, and throat
- swallowing that becomes difficult
- shortness of breath
- weak pulse
- low blood pressure
Many people who know they tend to have severe reactions to mint or other things often carry epinephrine (the EpiPen) that they can inject into their thigh muscle to lessen and stop the anaphylactic reaction. Even when you get epinephrine, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Your doctor can diagnose you with a mint allergy through allergy testing.
When your body senses a foreign intruder, such as bacteria or pollen, it makes antibodies to fight and remove it. When your body overreacts and makes too much antibody, you become allergic to it. You must have several encounters with that substance before there are enough antibodies built up to cause an allergic reaction. This process is called sensitization.
Researchers have known for a long time that sensitization to mint can occur through eating or touching it. Recently they have found that it can also occur by inhaling the pollen of mint plants. Two recent reports described allergic reactions in people who were sensitized by mint pollen from their gardens while growing up.
In one report, a woman with asthma had grown up in a family that grew mint in their garden. Her breathing got worse when she talked to anyone who had just eaten mint. Skin testing showed that she was allergic to mint. Researchers determined she had been sensitized by inhaling mint pollen while growing up.
In another report, a man had an anaphylactic reaction while sucking on a peppermint. He had also been sensitized by mint pollen from the family garden.
Foods containing any part or oil from a plant in the mint family can cause an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to mint. These plants and herbs include:
Many foods and other products contain mint, usually for the flavor or the scent. Foods that often contain mint include:
- alcoholic drinks like mint julep and mojito
- breath mints
- ice cream
- mint tea
Toothpaste and mouthwash are the most common nonfood products that often contain mint. Other products are:
- creams for sore muscles
- gels for cooling sunburned skin
- lip balm
- medication for sore throats
- peppermint foot cream
Peppermint oil extracted from mint is an herbal supplement that many people use for a variety of things including headaches and the common cold. It can also cause an allergic reaction.
Having a mint allergy can be difficult because mint is found in so many foods and products. If you have an allergy to mint, it’s important to avoid eating or having contact with mint, remembering that sometimes it isn’t included as an ingredient on product labels.
Mild symptoms often need no treatment, or they can be managed with antihistamines (when mint is eaten) or steroid cream (for a skin reaction). Anyone who has an anaphylactic reaction should immediately seek medical attention because it can be life-threatening.