What Do You Need to Know About a Nightshade Allergy?
Nightshades are a part of many people’s everyday diets; however, some of us may develop a nightshade intolerance or a nightshade allergy.
Nightshade vegetables and fruits belong to the Solanaceae family of flowering plants. There are thousand of species of nightshades, and many of them are used in cooking all over the world. Popular nightshades are potatoes, tomatoes, paprika, bell peppers, chili peppers, cayenne peppers, and eggplants. Yams and sweet potatoes, however, are not nightshades, although they look and taste like potatoes.
Other commonly consumed nightshades include huckleberries, which is a rare example of a sweet nightshade, and tobacco, the plant used in cigarettes.
Other types of nightshades are mostly inedible and may even be poisonous. All nightshade plants are similar genetically, but they may vary in their shape, color, structure, and size.
How Does a Food Intolerance Differs from Food Allergies?
In some cases, you may develop a minor intolerance to nightshades, because of difficulties digesting them. The symptoms of an intolerance to nightshades include bloating, gas, and diarrhea. More severe symptoms, such as fatigue and joint pain, appear are not common.
An allergy to nightshades is a very rare condition. Allergens that cause the reaction are called glycoalkaloids. Glycoalkaloid is a natural pesticide found in all kinds of nightshade plants. It helps to protect the plant from various pathogens like bacteria. In some people, it may trigger a reaction from the immune system. Most people with nightshade allergies are allergic to potatoes. This is because glycoalkaloids are not the only allergens contained in potatoes. On the contrary, allergic reactions to eggplants occur quite rarely. Some spicy nightshades may also trigger a reaction, which often happens because of their spiciness.
What Are the Symptoms of Nightshade Allergies?
Nightshade allergies can cause such symptoms as itching or skin rash, nausea or vomiting, nasal congestion, difficulty breathing and wheezing. Some people may experience a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction after eating nightshades. The signs of anaphylaxis include swelling of the throat, trouble breathing, dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting. If you experience these symptoms, you should seek for a medical attention immediately.
What Are the Risk Factors of a Nightshade Allergy?
Nightshade allergies are not studied well, but some general risk factors of food allergies are also applicable to them. For example, those who are younger than 12, who have other allergies or past food allergies are prone to developing the reaction to nightshades, too. The same applies to people with a family history of food allergies. In addition, having asthma can increase your risk of developing a severe reaction.
How to Diagnose a Nightshade Allergy?
You should note the symptoms you develop after eating certain foods. Pay attention to common food allergens like nuts, eggs, fish, dairy and soy.
To diagnose a specific allergy, e.g. an allergy to nightshades, your doctor has to perform some allergy testing. You may get a skin prick test that exposes you to the allergens, or a blood test that determines the levels of antibodies in your system.
How Can You Treat Nightshade Allergies?
Although allergies cannot be cured, there are various treatment options for nightshade allergy symptoms. The best thing you can do to prevent the symptoms is to avoid nightshades you are allergic to. There are many alternatives available that can replace nightshades in common recipes.
For instance, potatoes can be replaced with sweet potatoes, cauliflower, or yam, while bell peppers – with radishes, celery or Swiss chard. Instead of eggplants, you can eat portabella or shitake mushrooms. Cumin, and black and white pepper are good alternatives for cayenne and red pepper. Blueberries can easily replace goji berries and huckleberries. Sauces like alfredo, pesto or olive can be used instead of tomato sauces.
Allergy symptoms can be treated by some prescription medications, such as ahtihistamines or decongestants. As their name suggests, antihistamines work by blocking histamine in your body, thus alleviating the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Decongestants help to reduce accumulated mucus.
Nasal symptoms associated with allergy can be reduced with a help of nasal sprays. You can first try anticholinergic sprays. If they don’t seem to help, pass on to steroid nasal sprays.
Allergists suggest that people with severe nightshade allergies should carry an epinephrine auto-injector with them, in case of an emergency. EpiPen is one of the most commonly used autoinjectors filled with epinephrine. However, this is not an alternative to an actual medical treatment. If you are experiencing the symptoms of anaphylaxis, make sure you stay calm and use the epinephrine auto-injector as directed. Then you should be taken to the emergency room for further treatment.
Living with Nightshade Allergies
Nightshades are a diverse class of plants, and many of them are widely used in cooking all around the world. Therefore, it might be quite challenging to avoid these foods completely. Make sure to always read the labels when buying prepared food products. When eating out, inform your server about your allergy and make sure nightshades are not used in your meal.