Understanding Celery Allergy: Symptoms, Testing, and Management

Wyndly Care Team
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Can I be allergic to celery?

Yes, you can be allergic to celery. Symptoms may include itching or swelling in the mouth, throat or face, skin inflammation, digestive problems, and, in severe cases, anaphylaxis. Celery allergy is common in Europe and less so in the United States.

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What Is Celery Allergy?

A celery allergy is an allergic reaction to celery, one of the most common food allergens. Individuals with this allergy experience an overreaction of the immune system when they consume celery, leading to various symptoms that can range from mild to severe.

Prevalence of Celery Allergy

While celery allergy is more common in European countries, it's becoming increasingly prevalent in the United States. Some allergens similar to celery include cocklebur, timothy grass, and sheep sorrel, which could potentially cross-react with celery.

It's also worth noting that celery allergy is more common in adults than in children. The allergy can develop at any age, but it's most often diagnosed in adulthood. As with other food allergies, individuals with a family history of allergies or other types of food allergy are at a higher risk of developing a celery allergy.

What Causes Celery Allergy?

Celery allergy is triggered by an overactive immune response to certain proteins present in celery. When a susceptible individual consumes celery, their immune system mistakenly identifies these proteins as harmful, triggering an allergic reaction.

Sensitization to Other Allergens

Celery allergy may also be linked to sensitization to other allergens. Cross-reactivity between celery and certain grasses or weeds, including Johnson grass, ryegrass, and tumbleweed, can lead to celery allergy in some cases. It's a phenomenon where proteins in different species resemble each other closely enough to trigger an allergic reaction.

Celery Intolerance vs Allergy

It's important to differentiate between celery allergy and celery intolerance. While both conditions can cause discomfort, they have different underlying causes. An allergy involves an immune system response, while intolerance results from the body's inability to digest or process certain substances in celery.

The Link Between Celery and Oral Allergy Syndrome

Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) is a form of contact allergic reactions associated with raw fruits and vegetables, including celery. Individuals with OAS often have pollen allergies and may experience an allergic reaction to celery due to cross-reactivity between pollen and celery proteins. Symptoms of OAS usually include itching or swelling of the mouth, face, lip, tongue, and throat.

What Are the Symptoms of Celery Allergy?

Celery allergy symptoms can vary from mild to severe, including both immediate and delayed reactions. They typically occur soon after consuming or coming into contact with celery. However, the severity and type of reaction can vary widely based on an individual's sensitivity level and the amount of celery consumed.

OAS, characterized by itching or swelling in the mouth, face, lips, tongue, and throat shortly after eating raw celery. This is due to cross-reactivity between certain proteins in celery and those in some pollens, such as Sweet Vernal grass and Orchard grass.

Other symptoms may include typical food allergy reactions such as hives, itching, gastrointestinal upset (such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea), and anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention.

Lastly, individuals with a celery allergy may also experience symptoms upon exposure to other foods that cross-react with celery, such as spices and other plants in the same family, including carrots and parsnips. This is due to the similar protein structures that trigger the immune response.

How to Test for Celery Allergy?

To diagnose a celery allergy, doctors typically use a combination of a medical history, skin prick tests (SPT), and specific IgE blood tests. These tests are used to measure the immune system's response to celery proteins.

The SPT involves introducing small amounts of celery allergens into the skin and observing for any allergic reactions such as redness, swelling, or itching. This test is quick and can provide results within 15 to 20 minutes. However, it must be performed under medical supervision due to the risk of severe allergic reactions.

Specific IgE blood tests measure the amount of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to celery in the blood. These antibodies are produced by the immune system in response to an allergen. The test can be useful in cases where the SPT cannot be performed, such as in patients with severe skin conditions. Remember that a positive test result does not always indicate a clinical allergy. It is important to interpret the results in the context of the patient's history and symptoms.

In some cases, an oral food challenge may be carried out. This involves gradually introducing increasing amounts of celery under medical supervision and observing for any adverse reactions. This is the most accurate test for food allergies, but it also carries the highest risk and must be performed in a controlled medical setting.

What Are the Treatments for Celery Allergy?

The primary treatment for celery allergy is avoiding celery in all forms, including raw and cooked celery, and foods that contain celery as an ingredient. In case of accidental exposure, antihistamines or corticosteroids may be used to alleviate symptoms.

Sublingual Immunotherapy

Another treatment option is sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), which involves placing a small amount of the allergen under the tongue to help the immune system build tolerance. This treatment can be particularly effective for pollen-related food allergies, like celery allergy associated with birch pollen.

However, it's important to remember that while these treatments can help manage symptoms, they cannot cure the allergy. As with any treatment plan, it's important to work closely with your healthcare provider to find the most effective approach for you. Similar treatments are used for other common allergens like Bahia grass and Bermuda grass.

How to Manage a Celery Allergy?

Managing a celery allergy involves proactive steps like avoiding celery in all forms, reading food labels carefully, and carrying emergency medication for accidental exposure. It's essential to be aware of the various dishes and processed foods where celery may be used as an ingredient.

Educating yourself and others about your allergy is another crucial step. Inform family, friends, and restaurant staff about your allergy when dining out to prevent accidental exposure.

Lastly, carrying an epinephrine auto-injector is recommended for those with severe celery allergy, as they may experience anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction. This medication can quickly reduce severe symptoms and is typically followed by a visit to the emergency room.

What Foods Should One Avoid If Allergic to Celery?

If you're allergic to celery, it's essential to avoid any food that contains celery as an ingredient. This not only includes fresh celery but also celery salt, celery oil, celery seed, and celeriac, a root vegetable closely related to celery.

Many processed foods like soups, broths, sauces, spice mixes, and even some meat products use celery as a flavoring ingredient. It also often hides in salad dressings, pickles, and certain dietary supplements.

Always read the ingredient labels carefully while shopping for groceries. When dining out, ensure to communicate your allergy to the restaurant staff to avoid any unwanted reactions.

Is It Necessary to Avoid All Forms of Celery?

Yes, if you have a confirmed celery allergy, it's crucial to avoid all forms of celery. This includes whole celery stalks, celery leaves, celery seeds, celery root (or celeriac), and products derived from celery like celery salt and celery oil.

Celery is often used in various forms in cooking, especially in soups, stocks, and salads. It's also a common ingredient in processed foods and certain medications. Always check food and medication labels for any mention of celery.

Remember, even a small amount of celery can trigger an allergic reaction. Therefore, thorough avoidance of celery in all its forms is the best way to manage a celery allergy.

Where Can Celery Be Found?

Celery can be found in a multitude of food products beyond its raw form. It's often used as a flavoring agent or crunch factor in various dishes, but it's also present in unexpected places due to its nutritional value and distinctive taste.

Celery is commonly found in soups, stews, and broths, providing a unique flavor and aroma. It's also a common ingredient in salad dressings, coleslaws, and stuffing. Restaurants and home cooks alike use celery in a variety of culinary applications.

Additionally, celery is often used in processed foods. It may be present in spice mixes, canned soups, frozen meals, and even certain beverages. Celery salt and celery seed are used in pickling, while celery oil is found in certain perfumes and soaps. Always check product labels if you have a celery allergy.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why are Europeans allergic to celery?

Not all Europeans are allergic to celery, but it is a common allergen in Europe due to a specific protein it contains called Api g 1. This protein can cause a reaction in those with a birch pollen allergy, a condition more prevalent in Europe than elsewhere.

Is celery part of the 14 major allergens?

Yes, celery is indeed part of the 14 major allergens as recognized by the European Union's Food Information for Consumers Regulation. This includes celery stalks, leaves, seeds, and celeriac, and it applies to both raw and cooked forms, as well as celery salt and celery oil.

What should you avoid if you are allergic to celery?

If you're allergic to celery, avoid consuming raw or cooked celery, celery seeds, celery salt, and any product containing these ingredients. Also, many processed foods, soups, broths, dressings, and spice mixes may contain celery, so always check labels before consuming.

Is celery a major allergen?

Yes, celery is considered a major allergen, particularly in Europe where it is one of the 14 allergens legally required to be identified in food products. Celery allergy can trigger symptoms ranging from oral allergy syndrome to severe anaphylactic reactions in sensitive individuals.

Is allergy to celery common?

While not as prevalent as allergies to peanuts or shellfish, celery allergy is relatively common, especially in Europe. It may cause reactions ranging from mild oral allergy syndrome (itching or swelling of the mouth and throat) to potentially severe anaphylactic reactions.

Why do I feel sick after eating celery?

If you feel sick after eating celery, you may have an allergy to this vegetable. Symptoms can include itchy or swollen lips, mouth, or throat, nausea, diarrhea, or stomach cramps. In severe cases, anaphylaxis can occur. Consult a doctor if these symptoms persist.

How do you treat a celery allergy?

Treating a celery allergy involves avoiding celery in all forms and carrying an emergency epinephrine auto-injector in case of accidental exposure leading to anaphylaxis. Antihistamines can help manage minor reactions. It's important to closely read food labels as celery is often a hidden ingredient.

What foods should you avoid if you are allergic to celery?

If you're allergic to celery, you should avoid raw and cooked celery, celery seed, celery salt, and any food containing these. Additionally, cross-reactivity can occur with other foods like carrots, apples, parsnips, and spices like coriander and fennel, which you might need to avoid.

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