Why Do You Develop Reactions to Food Smell?
People with food allergies usually develop a reaction after consuming they food trigger. However, sometimes just smelling a food may cause you to experience allergy-like symptoms. Why does this happen? Is it because you inhale tiny particles of your allergen, or are allergic reactions to food smell possible, too? Read further to find out.
Allergy to Inhaled Food as a Result of a Food Allergy
In very rare cases, an allergic reaction can be triggered by microscopic food particles that we inhale. This mostly occurs in people with severe food allergies, who are extremely sensitive to the allergen.
For example, if you have a seafood allergy, inhaling odors coming from cooking fish or shellfish may lead to the development of allergy symptoms. In addition, you may also react to the inhaled particles of foods like milk, potatoes, eggs, and hot dogs. For the same reason, when you are on a plane, passengers may be asked not to open any packages of peanuts.
As it was mentioned above, this type of reaction is rare, and normally, having a food allergy doesn’t mean you have to avoid exposure to airborne food particles. However, those who are at an increased risk of reacting to food by inhalation (e.g. people with shellfish allergies) should be careful around foods that have a strong smell. According to statistics, this problem is getting more and more common among children.
Allergy to Inhaled Food Particles Alone
Some people have a condition known as hypersensitivity to foods by inhalation. If you have this type of allergy, you can eat your trigger food without any complications; but once you inhale some tiny particles of it, you may develop runny nose, watery eyes and other symptoms.
Allergic reactions to inhaled foods are mostly associated with peanuts, fish, shellfish, milk, eggs, seeds, soybeans, legumes and cereal grains. Several cases of steam allergy to legumes have also been reported recently.
Some of the most common places where you might develop such a reaction are restaurants and kitchens. However, people working with food products, food additives, or contaminants are at risk of experiencing the symptoms too. When cutting, cleaning, cooking or drying foods, they get exposed to various sources of the allergen, such as dust, steam, and airborne proteins. It’s worth mentioning that occupational asthma can also affect workers in this industry.
Can You Only React to Food Smell?
In fact, your body can sometimes react to a smell of a certain food without its particles being inhaled. This reaction, however, is not allergic, since it’s rather linked to the processes in your brain, rather than your immune system.
When people with a severe food allergy smell their allergen being cooked, their brain may recognize the smell as a potential danger. As a result, mental symptoms like anxiety or panic may occur, leading to physical symptoms that include tachycardia, release of adrenaline and other stress hormones, etc. Although these symptoms may be severe and even life-threatening in some cases, they don’t result from an allergic reaction.
What Is Cross-Reactivity Between Airborne and Food Allergens?
Allergies to proteins found in pollens and fresh fruits or vegetables may cross-react, which leads to an oral allergy syndrome (OAS). In the majority of situations, OAS occurs in people with pollen allergies.
The symptoms often include itching, burning, stinging, as well as swelling of the lips, mouth, and throat. This type of sensitivity can develop, for instance, between birch pollen and apple proteins, ragweed pollen and watermelon, grass pollen and potato, or mugwort pollen and carrots.
What Are Other Potential Causes of Reactions?
When you are close to cooking food, not only can you inhale small food particles, but your skin can also be exposed to an allergen. As a result, you may develop an allergic reaction on your skin.
In addition, during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester, many women become more sensitive to various smells, including those from foods. Certain food odors may cause nausea and aversion, which is why a lot of pregnant women tend to avoid particular foods. However, it’s considered normal, since there are still many other nutritious foods to eat.
How Are Allergic Disorders Treated?
In fact, there is no cure for allergies, and the only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid the trigger. Sometimes, you can also ease your symptoms using some over-the-counter or prescription allergy medicine. If you notice having some allergy-like symptoms, you should see an allergist-immunologist – a doctor who specializes in allergic disorders. Based on the severity of your sensitivity, your doctor will provide you with recommendations concerning your treatment and avoidance options. If you have a severe allergy, you may be prescribed an epinephrine auto-injector (such as Epi-Pen or Auvi-Q) that you should carry with you, in case of anaphylaxis.