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Shellfish Allergy Symptoms and Treatment

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A shellfish allergy is an immune system response to proteins found in certain types of shellfish including, but not limited to, shrimp, crab, lobster, clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops. Approximately 2% of Americans report an allergy to shellfish.

Shellfish allergies in children pose a significant concern, as they are one of the most common food allergies in pediatric populations. Unlike some other allergies that may be outgrown, shellfish allergies typically persist into adulthood.

Because shellfish allergy reactions can be severe and, in some cases, life-threatening, it is important to diagnose and treat a suspected shellfish allergy as soon as possible. The following sections provide an overview of common shellfish allergy reactions, shellfish allergy causes, and shellfish allergy treatment.

Shellfish Allergy Symptoms

Shellfish allergies can trigger a range of symptoms, typically occurring shortly after consumption of shellfish such as shrimp, crab, lobster, or mollusks like clams and oysters. Shellfish allergy reactions may result in a variety of skin, respiratory, digestive, and cardiovascular manifestations. These manifestations may include:

  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Swelling of the tongue, lips, face, throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Red or watery eyes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath
various tree nuts

Severe shellfish allergies can lead to anaphylaxis (anaphylactic shock). Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Shortness of breath (and/or wheezing)
  • Constriction of the throat
  • Persistent dizziness or collapse
  • Confusion
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Pale and floppy (young children)

Shellfish Allergy Causes

Shellfish allergies are primarily caused by an abnormal immune response to proteins found in certain types of shellfish. When an individual with a predisposition to shellfish allergies comes into contact with shellfish proteins, their immune system mistakenly identifies these proteins as harmful invaders and triggers a shellfish allergy reaction.

Genetics play a role in the development of shellfish allergies as individuals with a family history of allergies are more prone to developing this condition.

tree nut causes

Cross-contamination of foods can also expose individuals to shellfish allergens unknowingly, underscoring the importance of allergen awareness and careful food preparation for those with shellfish allergies.

Shellfish Allergy Testing

Tree nut allergy testing plays an important role in diagnosing and managing allergies to tree nuts, which can be life-threatening for some individuals.

Tree nut allergy testing may include:

Skin Prick Test

A test in which the skin is lightly pricked with a tiny amount of tree nut allergens, followed by monitoring for a reaction.

Blood Test

Measures the levels of IgE antibodies developed by the immune system, providing valuable information about the severity of the allergy.

Component Test

A blood test that evaluates a patient’s ability to tolerate specific components of allergens. A tree nut allergy component test is essential in differentiating between a cross reaction to pollen or a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.

Oral Food Challenge

A gradual process in which a patient consumes a small amount of a suspected allergen over a period of three to four hours. As serious allergic reactions can be life-threatening, it should only be conducted under the guidance of a qualified clinician.

FAI’s Advanced Food Allergy Testing

Our Foundation Labs (CLIA Certified) specializes in component testing of 130+ different allergens, including allergen components that are not available at national laboratories and hundreds of different biomarkers.

Foods to Avoid to Prevent
Shellfish Allergy Reactions

The best way to avoid a reaction is to avoid any shellfish or shellfish products. Make sure to read food labels carefully and ask about ingredients before consuming any food you have not cooked yourself. If you have an allergy to any of the groups of shellfish, your allergist will likely advise you to avoid the following:

  • Barnacle
  • Crab
  • Crawfish
  • Krill
  • Lobster
  • Prawns
  • Shrimp
  • Artificial nuts

Your doctor may prescribe avoidance of mollusks* or the following ingredients:

  • Abalone
  • Clams (cherrystone, geoduck, littleneck, pismo, quahog)
  • Cockle
  • Cuttlefish
  • Limpet (lapas, opihi)
  • Mussels
  • Octopus
  • Oysters
  • Periwinkle
  • Sea cucumber
  • Sea urchin
  • Scallops
  • Snails (escargot)
  • Squid (calamari)
  • Whelk (Turban shell)
various tree nuts

Your doctor may prescribe avoidance of mollusks* or the following ingredients:

  • Bouillabaisse
  • Cuttlefish ink
  • Glucosamine
  • Fish stock
  • Seafood flavoring (e.g., crab or clam extract)
  • Fish stock or fish sauce (sometimes made from krill)
  • Surimi

*Note: The federal government does not require mollusks to be fully disclosed on product labels.

Shellfish Allergy Treatment

For those with severe shellfish allergies, the only proven food allergy treatment that makes it possible to achieve remission is the Food Allergy Institute’s Tolerance Induction Program™ (TIP).

TIP™ builds tolerance to the unique proteins each individual is allergic to, all before introducing their most anaphylactic allergen(s).

This ensures patient safety, and over time alters their immune system to not react to any of their allergens. Once an individual has reached remission, they can eat like anyone without a food allergy for the rest of their life.

OIT and similar food allergy treatments aim to desensitize patients to protect them from “accidental exposure.” Through TIP™, patients can eat as freely as a non-allergic person would.

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Allergens Treated

The Tolerance Induction Program™ (TIP) successfully treats ALL severe food allergies, including the TOP 9 major allergens and many more!

  • Peanuts
  • Tree Nuts
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Shellfish
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Fish
  • Lentil
  • Mustard
  • Sesame
  • And more
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*Not a guarantee of coverage. Please contact your insurance company directly to determine if the Food Allergy Institute is within your network and considered a participating provider under your plan.