What You Need to Know About Citric Acid Allergy

Citric Acid Is A Common Food Additive, But People Some Are Sensitive

Boy drinking orange soda
Melissa Lomax Speelman/Moment/Getty Images

Citric acid is a rare source of food allergy, and it's one that can be difficult to detect in traditional allergy skin tests.

It also can be difficult to pinpoint citric acid as the cause of your symptoms because it is such a common food additive and is present in many processed foods.

Nonetheless, an allergy to citric acid can produce numerous symptoms, some of which may be severe. And if you're allergic to citric acid, you'll find (much to your likely dismay) that it's in practically every processed food.

Here's what you need to know about citric acid and citric acid allergy.

Does Citric Acid Come from Citrus?

No. Contrary to what you might expect from the name, citric acid does not contain any citrus juice. Instead, the food additive citric acid is manufactured by an industrial culture of a type of mold called Aspergillus Niger.

Citric acid is a common food additive found in everything from candy and soda to canned vegetables.

In the manufacturing process, the mold culture is fed sugar solutions, which are often derived from corn. Many people who react to foods containing citric acid may actually be allergic to the mold or the corn used to produce the acid.

Symptoms of Citric Acid Sensitivity

The symptoms of citric acid sensitivity may range from mild skin rashes to symptoms of a severe allergic reaction. Symptoms may include:

  • Mouth ulcers or rashes
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, or diarrhea

Causes of Citric Acid Sensitivity

Your sensitivity actually could be a mold or a corn issue. If you have an allergy or sensitivity to airborne mold or mold found in the environment, you may also react to mold in or on the foods you eat.

If you are allergic to corn, you may be sensitive to the tiny amount of corn that is left in citric acid during the manufacturing process.

Allergists can determine if you have an allergy to mold or corn using a skin-prick test, but to determine if you are also sensitive to mold in foods, you will need to do an elimination diet and supervised oral food challenge.

Some alternative medical practitioners believe that sensitivity to citric acid and other food additives is caused by exposure to environmental toxins. A build-up of heavy metals in the body is believed to lead to sensitivity to small quantities of additives that do not bother most other people.

Sensitivity to Citrus Fruits: Not the Same Thing

There are no citrus fruits in commercial citric acid used as a food additive, so if you're reacting to citric acid, you likely don't have a problem with citrus.

However, citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and limes, can cause oral allergy syndrome or contact reactions in some people. The acid in citrus fruits can also aggravate acid reflux symptoms and cause some people to experience heartburn.

Sources:

Schuster, E., Dunn-Coleman, N., Frisvad, J. C. & van Dijck, P. W. M. (2002) On the safety of Aspergillus Niger - A Review. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 59: 426-435.

Genuis, Stephen. Sensitivity-related illness: The escalating pandemic of allergy, food intolerance and chemical sensitivity. Science of The Total Environment, Volume 408, Issue 24, 15 November 2010, Pages 6047-6061

Luccioli, S. et al. Can Mold Allergy Be Triggered Via the Oral Route? Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Volume 93, Issue 5, Supplement 3, November 2004, Page S55

Continue Reading