While plenty of Thai curry aficionados delight over blazing hot peppers, others find that spicy foods cause unpleasant reactions such as profuse sweating. A reaction such as sweating is a food sensitivity, not an actual food allergy. By contrast, examples of allergic reactions include hives, itchy mouths, wheezing or the closing of the throat. A runny nose, sweating, diarrhea, gas or headaches are more typically food sensitivities. While it's most common to have sensitivity to spicy foods, it's also possible to have an allergy.
Allergies to Pepper
Various peppers, from cayenne to paprika, can cause allergic reactions. Often, the allergy is not to the edible fruit of the plant, which is used in cooking, but actually to the plant's pollen. Bell peppers, typically a sweeter variety of the capsicum family, can also trigger allergic reactions due to the presence of profilin, a type of protein. The presence of profilin varies according to the particular type of bell pepper, making it possible for allergy sufferers to consume certain peppers without problems.
If you experience an allergic reaction upon eating cayenne pepper, it's likely that you will also have an allergy to chestnuts and to fleshy fruits such as bananas, kiwi or avocados. Latex also triggers allergic reactions in many individuals with pepper allergies.
Allergies to Spicy Sauces and Condiments
In many cases, the ingredients in a spicy dish that bring the heat do not necessarily cause the allergy. Many sauces and condiments that include a piquant herb or spice also contain more common allergens. Soybean curd, widely used in Chinese cooking, often contains peanuts, a common allergen, as well as chilies and garlic. Chinese XO sauce contains a mixture of seafood as well as spicy chilies. Korean Gochuchang paste contains glutinous rice powder as well as red peppers. Many Thai sauces contain peanuts or powdered, dried shellfish in addition to chilies. In addition, many Asian cuisines prepare spicy dishes in oils derived from peanuts or other seeds or nuts, which can be common allergens.
Allergic reactions vary from minor disturbances to life-threatening conditions. If you have a history of extreme reactions to any of the sister allergies commonly linked with peppers and spicy foods, it's best to avoid eating any of the potential allergens, even in small quantity. Cayenne pepper, for example, can cause anaphylaxis, a sudden, potentially deadly condition that can involve hives, swelling around the throat and nasal passages, an irregular or rapid heartbeat, diarrhea, dizziness or nausea. The body goes into anaphylaxis when the immune system overreacts tp an allergen in an attempt at protection from the allergen. This causes a sudden drop in blood pressure and life-threatening symptoms. If you simply experience some sweating or a runny nose upon eating spicy foods, it's more likely that you have a food sensitivity or gustatory rhinitis, instead of an actual allergy.
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Food Allergies
- "Allergy"; Characterization of Allergens in Plant-derived Spices; C. Ebner et al; 1998
- "International Archives of Allergy and Immunology"; Bell Peppers Express Allergens Depending on the Horticultural Strain; E. Jenson-Jarolim, et al; June 1998
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Cayenne
- The Food Domain of Michigan State University: Ethnic Foods and Food Allergies
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Anaphylaxis