Fish Allergy

Could it be Food Allergies?

     Last September my husband and I went to Hilton Head Island for a relaxing vacation. Doug loves to fish and was looking forward to several days of surf fishing while we were on the beach. The picture is him with one of the first fish he caught. When we got back to our condo later in the day Doug made plans to cook all the fish for our dinner. Because I have a strong gluten sensitivity he did not fry the fish with flour, but instead pan fried it in olive oil and spices. We enjoyed it for dinner along with our salad and vegetables. About 20 minutes after dinner I began to have a slight headache and my throat and mouth started to itch. Then my thinking became a bit foggy and I had some slight intestinal pains and my heart began racing. This continued into the evening and the next day I still had a foggy mind and felt exhausted for most of the day. By the third day I was back to normal.

     What happened?

     I had an allergic reaction to the fish.

     About eight years ago I had skin-prick food allergy testing done by my doctor. The only food that was identified as an allergy was the fish perch. So I thought, this is easy. Even though I like fish, I never ate perch. Over the years since then I ate many other kinds of fish. After noticing some negative reactions when I ate flounder, trout and tuna I also eliminated them from my diet. I still eat salmon, sardines and anchovies on a regular basis and have not had any negatives symptoms from them. So when Doug caught the whiting I did not think anything about eating it. It’s not perch, flounder or trout. I will be fine.

     I wasn’t. But why?

What are Food Allergies?

     The immune system creates antibodies that circulate in our body to attack things that it sees as foreign. This is a good thing because when viruses or pathogenic bacteria enter our body (think cold or flu viruses) a healthy immune system kills the pathogens so we don’t get sick. Sometimes however, the immune system gets “confused” and starts attacking things in our body that are not bad for us such as food. We are not entirely sure why some people get allergies, but it is a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers. According to FARE, the Food Allergy Research & Education organization, about 1 in 13 children has a food allergy and food allergies have increased 50% from 1997 to 2011. And while most people with food allergies are diagnosed as children, about 15% are diagnosed as adults.

     There are a number of different types of antibodies produced by the body including IgA, IgE, IgG, and IgM. IgE is the antibody that is typically tested for by allergists. It stimulates the mast cells in the body to produce histamine and, in excess, causes allergic symptoms. Symptoms include the classic ones such as a runny nose, itching or hives. IgE food allergies can also cause symptoms such as headaches, intestinal pain, diarrhea, eczema, or the more dangerous symptoms of shortness of breath, falling blood pressure, or anaphylaxis.

     The eight most common food allergens are milk, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, egg, shellfish and fish, although people can be allergic to almost any food. IgE allergies tend to be lifelong, but about 25% of children diagnosed with a food allergy have eliminated it by adulthood, particularly for milk, egg or soy allergies. Strict avoidance of the food is necessary because there is no known cure for food allergies as of this time.

Why do I react to some fish and not others?

     Some people have IgE allergies to an entire class of foods, such as tree nuts or shellfish and others to only one food in that class such as almonds or shrimp. About 50% of people with a fish allergy are sensitive to all fish and the remainder to only certain kinds. The only fish that I was tested for was perch. I discovered my allergy to the other fish by trial and error. Since I eat salmon and sardines on a regular basis with no symptoms I did not think about a possible fish allergy when I ate the whiting. However, after this incident I am aware of the potential for problems with any fish.


What should you do if you notice symptoms after eating?

     If you have symptoms after eating certain foods on a regular basis, then I recommend seeing your doctor to have an IgE food allergy test. If the testing does not reveal any food allergies or if you still have symptoms after eliminating your allergic foods, then you may have food sensitivities or intolerances. Future articles will explain food sensitivities and intolerances and how to manage them.

     If you think you may have food allergies, sensitivities or intolerances and need help identifying and managing them, give me a call. I offer a complementary 20-minute introductory nutrition consultation session.

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