Living with a Citrus Allergy

Undoubtedly, the best way to treat an allergy is to simply avoid the item that causes the reactions; however, certain types such as a citrus allergy can be trickier to manage.  Unlike some allergens, citrus can be found in some surprising sources, causing unexpected triggers.

Allergic reactions are produced when the body’s immune system identifies a specific substance as a threat.  In normal circumstances, the immune system is continually on the alert for invading bacteria, viruses and other substances that could prove to be potentially harmful to any part of the body’s systems.  For some inexplicable reason, the immune system can become hypersensitive in certain people, producing a chemical called histamine which spreads throughout the body and leaving in its wake the symptoms that are so familiar with allergic reactions.   Making the process even more puzzling is the fact that the hypersensitivity is brought on by different stimuli to different people.  Some of the more common triggers are peanuts, dairy, wheat and eggs.  Citrus is a common, yet lesser known, trigger that causes allergic reactions in many people.

The term “citrus” applies to any fruit or vegetable that contains citric acid.  This group consists of such foods as tomatoes, oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes, the naturally occurring feature that lends that delightful “bite” to the foods.  Citric acid is a valuable tool in the art of preserving many types of foods during the canning or freezing process, and also is used in many manufactured beverages to aid in flavoring.  Outside of culinary uses, this substance is also very helpful in many cleaning aids as the acid is capable of cutting through oils and grease.  This astringent feature of citrus can provide a skin irritation in some individuals with sensitive skin, such as young babies.  Reactions like rashes around the mouth, sores in the mouth and even slight swelling of the lips and the skin around the lips are common occurrences with skin irritation, but rarely do any other symptoms emerge.  In other people, however, the sharp citric acid can produce a citrus allergy; complete with tingling lips and tongue, constriction of the throat, nausea, hives, itching, difficulty breathing, wheezing and runny nose.  In severe cases, a loss of consciousness can be experienced.


A simple test to determine which foods are causing allergic reactions is to monitor how the body reacts to the foods.  Some reactions are experienced immediately after consuming, while others can be delayed up to as much as 24 hours after eating.  If an individual feels repeatedly ill after eating citrus, an allergy should be seriously considered.  To confirm hypersensitivity, blood tests or skin tests will need to be performed.  There is no cure for any allergy, although many people have overcome the reactions as they age. 

People who have a citrus allergy must be especially careful in choosing foods to eat.  It would seem to be an easy matter to avoid citrus by simply not indulging in oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits and tomatoes.  However, it is not that easy since citric acid is used in a wide variety of different prepared foods.  Wine, some types of bread, cheeses, mayonnaise, fruit preserves, cereals and more include citric acid in their normal preparation methods.  In order to prevent the allergic reactions, an individual must be vigilant in reading food labels to determine whether citric acid is an ingredient of the product.  Dining out is also a challenge, as the allergy sufferer will need to question the ingredients of virtually any dish they consider.


Identifying foods that they must avoid is a large part of suffering from a citrus allergy. Being able to pinpoint the ingredient in prepared foods can be challenging, but with practice is possible; making living with the allergy much more manageable.




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