An Allergy to Ginger

Various Spices
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Ginger is widely used for culinary and medicinal purposes. Often referred to as ginger root, or simply ginger, the underground stem -- or rhizome -- is used raw or as a dried powder. Ginger is an ingredient in a variety of foods and drinks such as gingerbread, ginger ale and ginger tea. Raw ginger root or ginger supplements are also touted help treat a variety of conditions such as upset stomach, loss of appetite, nausea and motion sickness. Side effects are uncommon, and although rare, a ginger allergy is possible. If you suspect you have a ginger allergy, talk to your doctor for guidance on how to manage and prevent this condition.

Ginger and Spice Allergies

Spice allergies are rare -- less than 2 percent of all allergies in adults are related to spices, according to a report published in the November 2004 issue of “International Archives of Allergy and Immunology.” Of all spice allergies, ginger is an uncommon one, with typical symptoms of dermatitis -- skin redness, rash or inflammation. However, symptoms of food allergy are diverse and can also cause a dry cough, irritated throat, swelling or itching of the lips or mouth, itchy eyes, hives, runny nose, difficulty swallowing, abdominal pain, dizziness, fainting, or abdominal symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting or bloating. Symptoms can vary from mild to extreme, with reactions often occurring immediately or within hours of contact or ingestion.

Cross Reactions

An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system mistakes ginger as harmful. The immune system reacts by releasing substances into the blood that trigger allergy symptoms. Ginger is a member of the Zingiberaceae family, which also includes the spices cardamom and turmeric. If you have an allergy to any of these, you may be sensitive to all of these spices. Some foods, while not related, can contain proteins similar enough to those in the Zingiberacea family to cause a sensitivity.

Other Potential Causes

If you have environmental allergies, including an allergy to pollen, you may experience something called oral allergy syndrome (OAS). When the pollen that causes your allergic response is on the skins, leaves or surface of any plants, you can suffer symptoms when you eat these foods. Raw foods cause OAS more often than cooked foods, and the symptoms are usually specific to the mouth, ears, throat and skin. In addition, when used for culinary purposes, ginger is often combined with a variety of herbs, seasonings and plants, and one of these may be the real reason for your allergic response. According to a September 2013 article in “Today’s Dietitian,” spice allergies are increasing in awareness, and caraway, fennel, celery, cinnamon, saffron and mustard are all spices more recently noted for causing reactions.

Warnings and Precautions

See your doctor or allergist if you suspect you are allergic to ginger. A doctor can perform a skin or blood test to give you a definitive diagnosis. In the meantime, avoid ginger and any products that contain ginger, such as facial creams and teas, as well as products containing cardamom and turmeric. With your doctor’s approval, use an antihistamine in pill or cream form to help ease itching, swelling and inflammation. Seek immediate medical attention if you develop tightness in the chest, hives, wheezing or breathing difficulties after consuming ginger, as food allergies can sometimes trigger a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. If you are diagnosed with an allergy to ginger, your doctor may suggest that you carry an injectable form of epinephrine with you at all times to be used in the event of an emergency.

Reviewed by: Kay Peck, MPH, RD

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