Shellfish Allergy is not a Shell Game

This article has been reviewed by Thanai Pongdee, MD, FAAAAI

Shellfish, including shrimp, lobster, oysters and more, are often touted for their health benefits. But for millions of Americans with shellfish allergy, a tiny bite of these foods can cause a severe reaction. If you have a food allergy such as shellfish, your immune system overreacts to a particular protein found in that shellfish.

Most people with one shellfish allergy are allergic to other species within the same class. For example, if you are allergic to crab, you may also be allergic to lobster, shrimp and other crustaceans. Likewise, if you are allergic to clams, you may also be allergic to other mollusks, such as mussels or scallops.

It is a myth that shellfish allergy means it is unsafe to receive iodine dyes. If you have a shellfish allergy, you can most likely safely get radiocontrast medical procedures, unless you have a separate allergy to them.

Another misconception is that shellfish-allergic patients cannot take glucosamine. Glucosamine is normally safe to consume because it is made from shells, not the protein that causes allergy to shellfish.

Shellfish allergy is more common in adults than children. This is probably due to our eating habits. Because young children don’t typically eat shellfish, this allergy may not be apparent until later in life.

As with other food allergies, avoiding contact with shellfish is the only sure way to manage your symptoms.

Many people who think they are allergic to shellfish may actually be intolerant to it. Some of the symptoms of food intolerance and food allergy are similar, but the differences between the two are very important. An intolerance to shellfish can make you feel miserable. An allergy to shellfish can result in symptoms of anaphylaxis (an-a-fi-LAK-sis), a life-threatening allergic reaction.

An allergist / immunologist has advanced training and experience to determine if you are intolerant or allergic to shellfish and help you manage your condition.

AAAAI - American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology