Garlic is usually a trouble-free herb, providing more benefits than complication, but that's not always the case. Prolonged contact with garlic may cause irritation to the skin or even lesions, the University of Maryland Medical Center reports. Such reactions are more common than actual allergic reactions. Garlic has very little toxicity, and garlic allergies are rare occurrences compared with other foods. Even so, it does happen and sometimes with very serious effects.
Garlic Allergy Symptoms
Researchers conducted a study in Taiwan with 15 patients who developed an allergy to garlic after prolonged exposure to it. The study, published in the January 2004 issue of "Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology," identified the enzyme alliin lyase as the cause of the allergy. The conditions that accompanied the allergy were eczema, hives, hay fever and asthma. Typical symptoms for those conditions are a dry, itchy rash with red, flaking skin, welts, a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, a tight chest and shortness of breath. Garlic even has led, on rare occasion, to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.
Cooked Versus Raw Garlic
The enzyme in garlic responsible for allergic reactions is also responsible for its healthiest benefits. The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University reports that the enzyme produces the chemical compound allicin, which breaks down into other important compounds, some of which may be effective for fighting cancer. If you want the benefits of garlic without the risk, crush it, let it sit for 10 minutes and cook it. By letting it sit for a while, you allow time for the enzyme to produce allicin. Cooking it eliminates the enzymatic activity and most, if not all, of the risk of an allergic reaction. What doesn't get eliminated are most of the healthy benefits of garlic.
The first thing you should do if you suspect an allergic reaction to garlic is to avoid any further contact with it, advises MedlinePlus. If you experience hives or skin irritation, wear loose clothing and try not to scratch. Avoid prolonged contact with soap and water by taking quick baths with a minimal amount scrubbing. After bathing, apply lotion to maintain the moisture in the skin. You may be able to further relieve symptoms with antihistamines, decongestants or nasal sprays.
If you suspect an allergy, contact your doctor, especially in the event that your symptoms worsen or fail to respond to any treatment. Your doctor can determine if it is, in fact, an allergy and prescribe the necessary treatment. You should seek immediate medical attention in the case of fainting, confusion, wheezing, difficulty breathing, chest pain, tightness in the throat or swelling of the face or tongue.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Garlic
- Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology; Identification and Immunologic Characterization of an Allergen, Alliin Lyase, From Garlic
- Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: Garlic
- Linus Pauling Institute: Garlic and Organosulfur Compounds
- MedlinePlus: Allergies