Facial swelling due to a food allergy is common, but did you know that certain supplements may cause allergic reactions too? That's the case with calcitriol, calciferol and other man-made forms of vitamin D. These products carry potential effects ranging from swelling of the face and lips to hives.
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Supplemental vitamin D, but not the vitamin D in food, may cause allergic reactions, such as facial swelling, hives, skin rash and difficulty breathing. Other side effects such as headaches, bone pain and extreme tiredness may occur as well.
How Allergic Reactions Occur
About 32 million Americans, including one in 10 adults and one in 13 children, have food allergies. Each year, approximately 200,000 people who have this issue require emergency care, according to Food Allergy Research and Education. Depending on the trigger, you may experience hives, itching, difficulty breathing or facial swelling due to a food allergy. Anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, can be life-threatening.
Allergies occur when your immune system reacts to one or more substances in food, medications or the environment. Certain fabrics and chemicals may trigger local allergic reactions too. When you are exposed to allergens, your immune system releases antibodies to fight those substances — even if they are not necessarily harmful. This overreaction triggers inflammation and allergic symptoms, explains the Mayo Clinic.
Some individuals experience face swelling due to allergy. Others report wheezing, chest tightness, tingling in the mouth, runny nose or light-headedness. These symptoms range from mild to severe and vary from one person to another. Vitamin D in its natural form is unlikely to cause allergic reactions. Synthetic vitamin D, on the other hand, carries potential adverse effects.
Vitamin D and Immune Function
Vitamin D is naturally produced by your body when exposed to sunlight. For this reason, it's often referred to as the "sunshine vitamin." It also occurs in certain foods, such as tuna, salmon, sardines and white mushrooms. Just one tablespoon of cod liver oil provides 170 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin D, reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
This nutrient plays a key role in calcium absorption, keeping your bones strong. Vitamin D is required for cell growth and proliferation, immune function, bone development and other biological processes. Some studies suggest that it may also help reduce the occurrence of allergies due to its immunomodulating effects.
Read more: 9 Ways to Help Avoid Vitamin D Deficiency
For example, a review published in International Scholarly Research Notices in August 2014 suggests that individuals with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to develop asthma and certain allergies. As the researchers note, low vitamin D levels may affect immune tolerance, alter the gut flora and reduce the body's ability to fight infections. These factors may increase the likelihood of food allergies.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reports similar findings. Low vitamin D levels in the bloodstream may promote the onset of food allergies, especially in children and teens.
Face Swelling Due to an Allergy to Vitamin D
This nutrient comes in several forms, including natural and synthetic versions. Dietary supplements contain vitamin D2 or D3 in the form of calciferol, ergocalciferol, cholecalciferol and other man-made compounds. Except for some mushrooms containing vitamin D2, most foods provide this nutrient in the form of vitamin D3, states the NIH.
Synthetic vitamin D is more likely to trigger allergic reactions and other side effects compared to natural vitamin D. Ergocalciferol, for instance, may cause swelling of the face and hands, itching, hives, difficulty breathing and other allergic symptoms, warns Penn State Hershey. Some people may also experience bone pain, headaches, cloudy urine, arrhythmias and digestive distress.
Cholecalciferol, a synthetic form of vitamin D3, may cause allergic reactions too. These may include swelling of the face, eyes, lips or tongue, skin rash, dizziness, itching and hives, notes the Mayo Clinic. If your face is swollen due to an allergy to vitamin D, seek medical care immediately.
As the NIH points out, vitamin D toxicity doesn't result from excessive sun exposure. Additionally, most foods contain small amounts of this nutrient, so they are unlikely to cause adverse effects. Dietary supplements, on the other hand, make it easier to overdose on vitamin D and experience toxicity or allergic symptoms.
Adults need no more than 4,000 international units (100 micrograms) of this fat-soluble vitamin per day. According to the International Scholarly Research Notices review, vitamin D supplements are only recommended for those with blood vitamin D levels below 20 nanograms per milliliter.
If you suspect you're deficient in this vitamin, consider having a blood test. Your doctor will check the results and recommend a vitamin D formula if necessary.
- Food Allergy Research and Education: "Facts and Statistics - The Food Allergy Epidemic"
- Mayo Clinic: "Allergies"
- NIH: "Vitamin D"
- International Scholarly Research Notices: "Vitamin D and Its Role as a Protective Factor in Allergy"
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: "Vitamin D and Food Allergy"
- Penn State Hershey: "Ergocalciferol"
- Mayo Clinic: "Cholecalciferol (Oral Route)"