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A detailed overview of what seed allergies are, how to treat them, and how to avoid them.

Seed allergy is one of the most confusing conditions of its kind, especially due to the tree nuts - peanuts - seeds relationship. Over the past years, there has been a rise in registered cases of people who suffer from seed allergies. That could be due to the fact that seeds are introduced as recommended foods in popular diet plans. It could also be a cultural issue, and since lots of Eastern foods contain ingredients with seed proteins (such as halva or hummus), people are starting to consume them more often.

Tree nuts vs. peanuts vs. seeds

The relationship between these three types of foods is subject to many confusions. Of course, each of these terms has limited meaning and an important one at that. About 0.1 percent of the entire worldwide population has seed allergies. This means that it’s quite a rare condition, but one that people must understand nevertheless.

While these three categories of foods appear to be similar, they are actually different. For example, peanuts are actually legumes, which means that the proteins inside them are quite different compared to those found in tree nuts. Therefore, having a peanut allergy doesn’t necessarily make a person allergic to tree nuts as well. 

Sesame seed allergy

This is the most common type that falls into this category. In the US, sesame seed allergy is less common compared to other types of food allergies, affecting about one in a thousand people. However, sesame allergy can cause anaphylaxis, although such cases are rare. 

Poppy seeds

These are another subcategory of products that can trigger an allergic reaction. Even if they are less common than sesame allergies, they too can trigger severe allergic reactions. People who already have a tree nut allergy are even more exposed to developing poppy seed allergies as well.

Sunflower seed

These allergies are also a thing. If left untreated, the symptoms could also be severe and, in extreme cases, lead to anaphylactic shock. If you have been diagnosed with a seed allergy, carrying an epinephrine auto-injector is mandatory. This adrenaline shot is the faster response to anaphylaxis, and it could save your life.  

What triggers seed allergies?

  • Direct contact
  • Cross-contact
  • Cross-contamination

The sad news is that seed allergies are very hard to avoid. There are, however, some products that are well-known for containing seeds. Someone who suffers from seed allergies should avoid Middle Eastern foods, especially hummus and halva, as their base ingredient is seeds. 

There is also a wide variety of baked goods that could contain seeds: bagels, cookies, crackers, or buns. There are also different types of candies that contain seeds, as well as pretzels, trail mix, or granola bars. People should also check the labels of the cosmetic and hygiene products they use, as some of them may contain sesame seed oil. 

What are some common symptoms?

  • Hives
  • Pains and cramps
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing

The symptoms of a seed allergy are very similar to those of other types of food allergies. In fact, it is this very similarity that makes it difficult for doctors to precisely identify the allergen based solely on the symptoms described by a patient. If you suffer from seed allergy, you are very likely to have irritated skin or hives, experience abdominal pain and cramps, feel nauseated or throw up, have difficulty in breathing and swallowing, but also experience intense coughing episodes.

Diagnosis & treatment

In a study that reviewed English literature between 1930 and 2016, new information came to light. It would seem that, in most cases, it may not be the seed itself that’s triggering the allergy symptoms, but rather mold or seed pollen. 

The steps to diagnose a seed allergy aren’t that different compared to those for determining other food allergies. There are skin prick tests and blood tests performed by doctors. If these lead to inconclusive results, a food challenge or an elimination diet are typically the next steps. 

Since seeds are known to cause anaphylaxis, carrying an epinephrine injection is important. The injection can be self-administered, or you can teach your close ones how to do it. If you experience anaphylactic shock, you may fail to reach for the injector to administer the shot yourself. It’s a good idea to carry an alert hand bracelet, which is a warning for others around you that you’re suffering from a food allergy. These bracelets are recognized even by strangers, who can further help you in case of severe anaphylaxis symptoms. An adrenaline injection should always be followed by a visit to the emergency room.

Cross-reactivity

Oddly enough, there is very little information available on the cross-reactivity between a seed allergy and the ingestion of other types of foods. Some studies have shown that people who are allergic to sesame seeds, could also react negatively to rye grain, hazelnuts, or kiwi fruit. These categories of foods contain similar proteins, but there is definitely room for more clinical studies on the matter. 

Due to all the confusion between seeds, peanuts, and tree nuts, doctors could recommend their patients to avoid all the foods that fall into these categories, despite the fact that the patient has only been tested for a seed allergy. Until more conclusive data is made available on the topic of seed allergies, it’s advisable to avoid foods such as hazelnuts, peanuts, pistachios, almost, and the likes, even if your specific allergy is seed-related. 

Conclusion

Prevention is key to learning how to live with food-related allergies. Despite seed allergies being quite rare on a global level, certain corners of the world are experiencing an increase in the number of people who are becoming allergic to seeds. Thankfully, food manufacturers will often mention the presence of seeds among the ingredients lists of their products, so carefully reading the label can prevent any unpleasant situations. If you have a seed allergy, you might want to avoid pastry or baked goods, because even a product that doesn’t contain any seeds could have come in contact with another one that does.

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