Garlic Allergy: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Management

Wyndly Care Team
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What is garlic intolerance called?

Garlic intolerance, also known as Allium intolerance, manifests as digestive upset after consuming garlic. Symptoms include bloating, gas, stomach cramps, and nausea. Unlike an allergy, this intolerance doesn't involve the immune system and isn't life-threatening but can cause significant discomfort.

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What Causes Garlic Allergies?

Garlic allergies are triggered by the body's immune system mistakenly identifying certain proteins in garlic as harmful. This misidentification results in the release of chemicals like histamines causing allergic reactions. Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of garlic allergies.

Genetic Factors

Inherited traits can increase an individual's susceptibility to garlic allergies. If a person's parents or siblings have allergies, they are more likely to develop garlic or other food allergies. This genetic predisposition, however, doesn't guarantee that an allergy will develop, but it increases the risk.

Environmental Factors

Exposure to garlic, through consumption or handling, can trigger allergic reactions in predisposed individuals. The more frequent the exposure, the higher the risk of developing an allergy. Garlic allergies can also be linked to Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS), where individuals allergic to certain pollens experience allergic reactions to related foods, including garlic. Oral Allergy Syndrome is often associated with ragweed, mugwort, and birch tree allergies.

What Are the Symptoms of Garlic Allergies?

Garlic allergies can induce a range of symptoms affecting the skin, digestive system, and respiratory tract. The severity varies among individuals and can range from mild discomfort to severe reactions requiring immediate medical attention.

Skin Reactions

Skin reactions are common in garlic allergies and may include rashes, hives, or eczema. In severe cases, these can escalate to allergic eczema, characterized by red, itchy, and inflamed skin. It's important to note that skin reactions can occur even from handling garlic, not just ingesting it.

Digestive Issues

Garlic allergies can also cause digestive issues such as stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually associated with food allergies and may occur shortly after consuming garlic. It's recommended to seek medical advice if these symptoms persist or become severe.

Respiratory Symptoms

Respiratory symptoms are another common manifestation of garlic allergies. These may include a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, coughing, and in some cases, difficulty breathing. Symptoms similar to ragweed allergy such as itchy or watery eyes, and itchy throat, can also occur due to cross-reactivity between garlic and certain types of pollen.

How Are Garlic Allergies Diagnosed?

Garlic allergies are diagnosed through a series of tests, including skin tests and blood tests, conducted by an allergist. These tests help determine the body's reaction to garlic, aiding in an accurate diagnosis.

Skin Tests

Skin tests or prick tests are commonly used in diagnosing garlic allergies. In this test, a small amount of garlic extract is pricked into the skin and monitored for reactions. A raised bump or hive might indicate an allergic reaction. It's important to remember that allergic reactions can vary in severity, so even a mild skin response can be significant.

Blood Tests

Blood tests can also be used to diagnose garlic allergies. These tests measure the amount of specific antibodies, known as Immunoglobulin E (IgE), produced in response to garlic. Higher levels of IgE antibodies often indicate an allergic reaction. However, blood tests are usually conducted when skin tests are not feasible or have provided inconclusive results.

What Health Concerns Are Related to Garlic Allergies?

Garlic allergies, while uncommon, can lead to serious health issues if not managed correctly. Some concerns related to garlic allergies include the risk of anaphylaxis and cross-reactivity with other foods.


Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that can happen within minutes of exposure to an allergen like garlic. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include hives, swelling of the mouth and throat, difficulty breathing, a sudden drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. If you suspect you are experiencing anaphylaxis, it's essential to seek emergency medical attention immediately.

Cross-Reactivity with Other Foods

Cross-reactivity refers to the phenomenon where proteins in garlic can be similar enough to proteins in other foods or substances that the body's immune system sees them as the same. OAS, where certain raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts cause allergic reactions because they contain proteins similar to those found in garlic. This cross-reactivity can make managing a garlic allergy more complex, as it may require avoiding additional foods to prevent allergic reactions.

How to Deal with Allergic Reactions to Garlic?

Managing allergic reactions to garlic involves immediate treatment of symptoms, long-term strategies to avoid exposure, and potentially, sublingual immunotherapy.

Immediate Treatment

Immediate treatment of garlic allergy reactions usually involves over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines to relieve minor symptoms like itching, sneezing, and runny nose. For skin reactions, topical creams or ointments may be used. In severe cases, such as anaphylaxis, an auto-injector of epinephrine (EpiPen) is required. It's important to remember that severe reactions need emergency medical attention even after using an EpiPen.

Long-Term Management

Long-term management of garlic allergies involves avoidance of garlic and other cross-reactive foods. This requires careful reading of food labels and making informed choices when eating out. It may also involve the use of daily medications to control symptoms. For those who have severe reactions, carrying an EpiPen at all times is crucial.

Sublingual Immunotherapy

Sublingual immunotherapy is a treatment option for some allergies, but it's not currently available for garlic allergies. This treatment involves placing a tablet under the tongue that contains small amounts of the allergen, helping the body build up resistance over time. While promising, it's not a viable option for all allergens, and you should discuss this with your allergist.

What Foods Should Be Avoided with a Garlic Allergy?

Those with a garlic allergy need to avoid all foods containing garlic. This includes not only fresh garlic, but also garlic powder, garlic salt, and garlic oil. It's vital to read food labels carefully as garlic is a common ingredient in many processed foods.

Processed foods to avoid include canned soups, frozen dinners, snack foods, and salad dressings. Even some brands of bread, chips, and crackers contain garlic. Foods at restaurants, especially those that serve Italian, Asian, and Indian cuisines, often contain garlic as well.

It's also important to be aware of cross-reactivity. Garlic is part of the Allium family, which includes onions, chives, leeks, and shallots. Some people with a garlic allergy may also be allergic to these other foods. In addition, OAS can cause reactions to certain fruits and vegetables in people with pollen allergies. Always consult with a medical professional for guidance on how to manage your specific allergy.

What Are the Alternatives to Garlic?

For those with a garlic allergy, there are several alternatives that can provide similar flavor profiles without triggering allergic reactions. These include herbs and spices like asafoetida powder, chives, ginger, cumin, and fennel seeds.

Asafoetida powder, also known as hing, has a strong flavor similar to that of garlic and onions. It's a popular ingredient in Indian cooking. Chives, particularly the white bulbs, can also provide a mild garlic-like taste. For a different flavor profile, spices like ginger, cumin, and fennel seeds can be used. These spices not only enhance the taste of your dishes but also offer various health benefits.

Remember, when trying new ingredients, it's important to introduce them to your diet slowly and in small amounts. Monitor your body's response to ensure no new allergies or adverse reactions develop. For further advice on managing your garlic allergy and finding suitable alternatives, consult a healthcare professional.

How to Prevent Garlic Allergy Reactions?

Avoiding direct contact with garlic is the most effective way to prevent garlic allergy reactions. However, this can be challenging as garlic is a common ingredient in many cuisines. Here are some practical steps to help minimize the risk.

  • Understand Cross-Reactivity: Certain individuals with garlic allergies may also react to other plants in the same family, such as onions, chives, and leeks. Understanding this can help in avoiding potential allergens.

  • Read food labels: Manufacturers often use garlic in processed foods. Always check ingredients on food labels, even in products where you don't expect to find garlic.

  • Inform restaurants and hosts: When dining out or at a friend's house, inform the chef or host about your garlic allergy. They can ensure your meals are prepared without garlic.

  • Carry antihistamines: OTC antihistamines can help manage minor allergic reactions. Always have them on hand.

  • Seek medical advice: If you have experienced severe reactions, consult your doctor about carrying an epinephrine auto-injector for emergencies.

For more information on managing your garlic allergy, consider consulting an allergist who can provide personalized advice based on your specific circumstances. Prevention is key in managing any allergy, and understanding how to avoid allergens is the first step toward reducing the risk of reactions.

How to Live with a Garlic Allergy?

Living with a garlic allergy involves more than just avoiding garlic. It requires continuous vigilance, proactivity, and education. Here are some strategies to help manage a garlic allergy effectively:

  • Identify and Avoid Cross-Reactive Foods: Certain foods, like onions, have proteins similar to garlic and may cause a reaction. Finding a list of these cross-reactive foods and avoiding them is crucial.

  • Prepare meals at home: Cooking at home allows you to control the ingredients used, reducing the risk of accidental exposure to garlic.

  • Seek support: Joining allergy support groups can provide comfort and practical advice from others who are experiencing similar challenges.

  • Stay informed: Keep up-to-date with the latest research and treatments for garlic allergies. Regularly consult your healthcare provider or an allergist to discuss any changes in your symptoms or new treatments.

  • Educate others: Inform friends, family, and colleagues about your garlic allergy so they can help avoid situations where you might be exposed to garlic.

Living with a garlic allergy can be challenging, but with these strategies, you can manage your allergy effectively and maintain a healthy lifestyle. It's essential to work closely with your healthcare provider to create a personalized plan that suits your needs. If you're interested in learning more about allergies and how to manage them, Wyndly offers various resources on different types of allergies, their causes, symptoms, and treatments.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the three stages of an allergic reaction?

The three stages of an allergic reaction are sensitization, activation, and effector. During sensitization, the immune system identifies the allergen. In the activation stage, the allergen triggers the immune response. The effector stage is when symptoms, such as hives or sneezing, occur.

How long after eating do you get allergic reactions?

Food allergy reactions typically occur within minutes to several hours after eating. The majority of severe reactions, known as anaphylaxis, happen within 30 minutes. However, some reactions can be delayed, occurring 2 to 4 hours post-consumption or even later in rare cases.

How do you deal with garlic intolerance?

Dealing with garlic intolerance involves avoiding garlic in both raw and cooked forms. Read labels carefully, as many processed foods contain garlic. Consider alternatives like chives or onion for flavor. If symptoms persist despite avoidance, consult a healthcare provider for further guidance.

Who can't eat garlic?

Individuals who should avoid eating garlic include those with a garlic allergy or intolerance, those suffering from GERD or other gastrointestinal disorders that can be aggravated by garlic, and individuals on certain medications such as blood thinners, as garlic can potentially interact with these drugs.

Why do I feel sick after eating garlic?

Feeling sick after eating garlic could be due to a garlic allergy or intolerance. Symptoms may include bloating, nausea, diarrhea, gas, stomach pain, or in severe cases, anaphylaxis. It's crucial to get tested by an allergist if you suspect a garlic allergy or intolerance.

What are the symptoms of garlic intolerance?

Garlic intolerance symptoms include gastrointestinal issues such as bloating, stomach pain, gas, nausea, and diarrhea. Some people may also experience symptoms like headaches, a runny nose, or skin rash. These symptoms typically occur shortly after consuming garlic, but timing can vary among individuals.

Is garlic an antihistamine?

Yes, garlic acts as a natural antihistamine. It contains compounds like quercetin and allicin, which inhibit the release of histamine in your body, helping to reduce allergic reactions. However, it may not be as effective as medical-grade antihistamines for severe allergies.

Is garlic a major allergen?

Garlic is not considered a major allergen. However, it is possible for individuals to develop a garlic allergy, though it is relatively rare. Symptoms can include skin rash, nasal congestion, asthma, or in severe cases, anaphylactic shock. Consult a healthcare professional if you suspect a garlic allergy.

How do you treat allium intolerance?

Allium intolerance is managed primarily by dietary modification, which involves avoiding foods containing alliums like onions, garlic, leeks, and chives. For accidental ingestion, antihistamines can minimize symptoms. Consult with a dietitian for personalized advice and symptom management strategies.

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