Nutmeg Allergy: Is Nutmeg a Tree Nut?
Nutmeg is a popular seasoning used in various desserts, baked goods, and entrees. Cider and other beverages may also contain it. Nutmeg is especially featured in Moroccan and Indian cuisines. You can find it in a whole form or in the form of a ground spice.
Because of its name, some people believe that nutmeg is a type of tree nuts. If you are allergic to tree nuts, you may be wondering if you can safely consume nutmeg. In fact, nutmeg is technically a seed, which means it’s safe for people with tree nut allergies.
However, this food product can still trigger allergies in those who are allergic to seeds. While having a seed allergy doesn’t necessarily mean you are allergic to nutmeg, some people can develop mild and severe reaction after eating nutmeg-containing foods.
How Do You Tree Nut and Seed Allergies Differ?
Tree nuts are one of the eight most common food allergens in the world, as well as peanuts, soy, wheat, milk, eggs, fish, and shellfish. While tree nut allergies are more likely to affect children, they can also develop in adults. On the contrary, allergies to nutmeg and other seeds are quite rare.
The most common type of seed allergies is a sesame seed allergy. In some countries, such as Canada, food manufacturers are required to declare even trace amounts of sesame seeds in the product.
What Is a Food Allergy?
An allergic reaction to a food occurs, when the immune system perceives a protein contained in the food as a dangerous substance. A person can be allergic to one particular food protein, as well as to multiple foods. Many people are allergic to the entire food categories, such as nuts, seeds, dairy, or shellfish.
Cross-reactions between foods from different categories are not possible. Thus, being allergic to a tree nut doesn’t increase your risks for a nutmeg allergy.
Which Foods Trigger Seed, Nut, and Legume Allergies?
Such food groups as tree nuts, seeds, and legumes are often mistaken for one another. In order to avoid potential allergens, it is important to know the difference between these food products.
When it comes to seeds allergies, common triggers include: sesame seeds, chia seeds, coconuts, nutmegs, flax seeds, poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and wheat germs.
Speaking of common tree nut allergens, they include: almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, pine nuts, and macadamia nuts.
Finally, peanuts are the most common legume allergen, as well as chickpeas, black beans, fava beans, lentils, peas, lima beans, soy beans, and red kidney beans.
What Symptoms Are Caused by a Nutmeg Allergy?
An allergy to nutmeg can cause reactions ranging from mild to severe, such as anaphylaxis. The symptoms of a nutmeg allergy usually depend on how severe the reaction is.
The symptoms of a mild allergic reaction may include: nasal congestion, skin rash, swelling of the lips or tongue, chest tightness, wheezing, gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, or diarrhea, as well as weakness, or fainting.
Anaphylaxis is the most severe type of an allergic reaction. It causes potentially life-threatening symptoms that require an immediate medical attention. The symptoms of anaphylaxis usually occur a few minutes after the contact with an allergen. They may include: trouble breathing, lowered blood pressure, weak pulse, confusion, and fainting.
How to Diagnose an Allergy to Nutmeg?
A severe allergic reaction to nutmeg or any other seed usually develop within a few minutes of the exposure to the allergen. However, the symptoms that are less severe may occur after several hours or even days. In this case, it may be difficult to determine the cause of the reaction.
The best way to get a proper diagnosis is to consult with a doctor. Your doctor can suggest that you undergo special allergy testing. This may involve a skin prick test or a blood test. You may also need to perform an oral food challenge to see how your body reacts to certain foods. This challenge involves eating a small amount of the suspected allergen.
Can You Prevent an Allergic Reaction to Nutmeg?
Unfortunately, food allergies cannot be cured. The only way to prevent a life-threatening allergic reaction is to avoid the allergen.
It is important to always read the packaging labels of the products you purchase. When doing grocery shopping, make sure to check the ingredients labels for seeds oils and extracts. Allergenic foods are sometimes listed under alternative names. Experts recommend that you research the alternative names for your food allergens, to be prepared.
Remember that nutmeg can be found in various foods, oils, as well as cosmetic products. Avoid products containing the allergen.
When it comes to eating out, it is important to inform your server and the manager of the restaurant about your allergy. Nutmeg may be difficult to spot in a dish, so make sure your meal is prepared without being exposed to this allergen.
If you have a history of a severe reaction, your doctor may recommend that you always carry an epinephrine auto-injector with you, in case of an emergency. If you notice the symptoms of anaphylaxis, use the auto-injector immediately and seek for a follow-up medical care.
How Can You Treat an Allergic Reaction to Nutmeg?
As it was mentioned earlier, there is no way to cure food allergies, including nutmeg allergies. The only way to keep the condition under is to avoid the allergen.
If you come into contact with a nutmeg, you may need a certain treatment to reduce the allergy symptoms. The required type of treatment depends on the severity of the reaction. Mild reactions can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription allergy medication like antihistamines and steroids, or asthma drugs. In case of an anaphylactic reaction, the treatment involves an immediate injection of epinephrine and a follow-up care.
Antihistamines are usually available over the counter. The most common ones include diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and cetirizine (Zyrtec).
Fluticasone propionate (Flonase) and triamcinolone acetonide (Nasacort) are among the most commonly-used corticosteroids.
Many people use these meds to self-treat. However, it’s better to consult with a doctor before using any allergy medications, even over-the-counter ones.
If you have a history of severe reactions, you may need to carry an emergency medication with you, wherever you go. In some cases, allergists recommend wearing an emergency medical bracelet. This bracelet informs the emergency responders about your condition and the required treatment, in case of an anaphylactic shock.
When Should You Visit a Doctor?
If you notice some abnormal symptoms after eating foods containing nutmeg or other seeds, you should consult with your doctor. The doctor may suggest that you undergo an allergy test. Based on the symptoms you experience, your medical history and allergy history, the specialist will make a diagnosis and recommend the right treatment.