Nasal Symptoms Caused By Food Allergies

Milk Allergy and Nasal Mucus

Foods can cause allergic and non-allergic forms of nasal symptoms..

I see many people in my clinic who believe that food allergies are responsible for their nasal symptoms. This is a common misconception among people, especially with milk. People believe that a milk allergy is the reason why they have symptoms of sneezing, nasal congestion and mucus in the throat. In reality, however, food allergies are an extremely rare cause of isolated allergic rhinitis or asthma symptoms.

The majority of people with food allergies experience some type of skin reaction, such as itching, urticaria (hives), swelling (angioedema), flushing or eczema. It is certainly possible that other symptoms can occur in addition to these skin symptoms, including gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea), respiratory symptoms (sneezing, nasal congestion, wheezing and coughing), and cardiovascular symptoms (lightheadedness, low blood pressure).

Food Intolerance

When foods cause nasal symptoms, this is most often a result of food intolerance. For example, milk may certainly worsen mucus in the throat, but not as a result of an allergic reaction. The protein in milk causes mucus that is already in the throat to thicken, which would make a person think that the milk is actually causing the mucus to form. Allergy testing to milk would be negative, as allergic antibodies (IgE) are not involved in this reaction.

Another type of food intolerance that mimics nasal allergies is caused gustatory rhinitis. This is a form of non-allergic rhinitis that is essentially an irritant effect caused by eating spicy foods, which results in a runny nose and sneezing in certain people. However, this condition is also not caused by a true food allergy, as allergy testing would be negative to the offending food.

Oral Allergy Syndrome

The oral allergy syndrome (OAS) is one type of food allergy that could result in the symptoms of nasal allergies, but other symptoms would also be present. People with the OAS typically experience symptoms of itchy tongue, throat and possibly sneezing and runny nose after eating certain fresh fruits and vegetables. Proteins found in the fresh fruits and vegetables are similar to proteins found in certain pollens. When a person is allergic to certain pollen, a corresponding fresh fruit or vegetable may result in the symptoms of OAS. Because the proteins in the fruits and vegetables causing the OAS are so fragile, they are quickly broken down by a person’s saliva, as well as by cooking or processing. Therefore, a person with OAS won’t react to cooked, canned or processed fruits and vegetables.

Respiratory Allergy to Cooking Shellfish

It is possible to experience nasal allergy and asthma symptoms as a result of breathing in steam from cooking shellfish. There is at least one report from 1992 of a chef who experienced an asthma attack while cooking different types of shellfish.

This chef had experienced allergic reactions as a result of eating shellfish, but had never had a problem preparing seafood. He quickly noticed that while steaming shellfish, he would experience worsening asthma symptoms as a result of inhaling the steam. The proteins associated with shellfish allergy, called tropomyosins, were found to be released into the steam when the shellfish are being cooked. Therefore, a person with shellfish allergy should avoid even going into a seafood restaurant, as there is the danger of an allergic reaction simply by breathing the air inside the restaurant.

Allergic Reactions to Food Odors

Generally, with the exception of inhaling the odors from food being cooked, it is not possible for a person to experience an allergic reaction from smells being released from food. This is because odors from foods don’t contain proteins, but rather are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Proteins are responsible for causing allergic reactions, not VOCs. Therefore, even though a peanut-allergic person could smell the presence of peanut butter from across the room, this would not result in an allergic reaction in that person. Allergic reactions can occur, however, from various foods being cooked, and those proteins being released into the air.


Cingi C, Demirbus D, Songu M. Allergic Rhinitis Caused by Food Allergies. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2010;267:1327-35.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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