Case study

Is “Onion Allergy” a real thing? Science says YES

Onions are a regular part of various cuisines but did you know that onion allergy is real? As weird as it may sound, it is true. You can be allergic to onions if your body has sensitivity. Not just eating, smelling or touching raw onions can also initiate an allergic reaction. Food Allergy Research and Education say that  32 million Americans are living with different food allergies. It includes 5.6 million children under age 18.  It means every one in 13 children is having a food allergy.

Onion shares its genus (allium) with some other dietary ingredients such as garlic, chives, etc. That is why people who are allergic to onions are also allergic to other species of allium. In 2001, The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology published a case study on “onion allergy”.

The victim was a 45 years old man who previously reported at least 5 episodes of severe allergy after eating raw onions in pas few years. Not just raw, he was also allergic to cooked onions ever since he was young. He was having oral allergy syndrome but no respiratory allergy. His skin prick tests with seasonal and perennial airborne allergens were negative.

What does an onion allergy look like?

An onion allergy brings internal and external symptoms that can be mild to moderate. Some people experience immediate reaction by touching, eating or smelling onions. Other may take hours to show the same symptoms.

Some common symptoms of onion allergy are as follows.

  • Hives
  • Rashes
  • Itch
  • Tingling feeling
  • Inflammation
  • Nasal congestion
  • Breathing issues
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Loose motion and cramps
  • Gas and constipation

Most of these symptoms are minor and they go away on their own. But in case of severe conditions such as diarrhea, difficulty in breathing or gastric distress, the patient needs emergency medical care.

Triggers of onion allergy

The only trigger of onion allergy is, of course, onion. But you may also get the same symptoms when you eat foods that contain similar types of proteins in them. This is a common phenomenon and is called cross-reactivity.

People can be allergic to onions, garlic chives, scallions, and shallots as well. It is difficult to avoid food that contains any of the edible alliums. However, reading the labels and avoiding recipes that contain alliums can reduce the risk.

Also read- A new effective therapy for treating peanut allergy

Is onion allergy treatable?

Allergy is not a disease but sensitivity. The efficacy of its treatments depends upon its severity. Based on that, the following treatments can be helpful.

  • Antihistamines
  • Aloe vera
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Epinephrine
  • Albuterol sulfate inhaler

Make your prevent plan

The best way to avoid a reaction is by avoiding onions. Most people are allergic to raw onions and cooking onions somehow doesn’t cause an allergy. Heat degrades the compounds that otherwise trigger an allergic reaction. So eating only cooked onions may be safe for people with an onion allergy.

Best substitute of onion

Usually, other alliums work the same if you don’t want to use onions. The best alternatives of onion are

Asafetida- it is easy to find an ingredient that has onion and garlic-like taste. It has a strong flavor so tr adding only a pinch of it into your recipes.

Fennel- it also tastes like onion but has a more creamy texture than an onion. It is easily available at all grocery stores in fresh and dry form.

Radish- replace raw onion with radish in cold dishes. Both these have a similar sharp taste and add a crunch to any recipe.

Celery- this doesn’t taste anything like onion but adding celery into recipes makes up for onions. It goes best with salads, eggs, stew, soups or fish.

How to know if you have an onion allergy?

Only a certified doctor can help you to know about onion allergy. A physical exam of symptoms and your last meal details explain a lot. The doctor would also ask about food intake, supplement history, and lifestyle. On confirmation of allergy, the doctor will put you on an elimination diet for a few weeks to analyze the result. During this time you will eat all the foods that may possibly be the reason for your allergic reactions.

Additionally, there are multiple diagnostic tests for food allergies and sensitivities that confirm it. Two most common tests are the skin prick test and specific IgE blood test. Do not forget to tell you about your daily medicines and supplements, if any.

The final word

Onion allergy is a real thing but it is rare. Usually what people regard as onion allergy is just a sensitivity. Although these two conditions look the same but are completely different. It is possible for the onion allergic people to be allergic to garlic and similar alliums as well. Try using the substitutes if you are diagnosed with it.



Areeba Hussain

Areeba is an independent medical and healthcare writer. For the last three years, she is writing for Tophealthjournal. Her prime areas of interest are diseases, medicine, treatments, and alternative therapies. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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