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Health Information For Parents
A shellfish allergy is not exactly the same as a seafood allergy. Seafood includes fish (like tuna or cod) and shellfish (like lobster or clams). Even though they both fall into the category of “seafood,” fish and shellfish are biologically different. So fish will not cause an allergic reaction in someone with a shellfish allergy, unless that person also has a fish allergy.
Shellfish fall into two different groups:
Some people with shellfish allergies are allergic to both groups, but some are allergic only to one.
Most allergic reactions to shellfish happen when someone eats shellfish. But sometimes a person can react to touching shellfish or breathing in vapors from cooking shellfish.
Shellfish allergy can develop at any age. Even people who have eaten shellfish in the past can develop an allergy. Some people outgrow certain food allergies over time, but those with shellfish allergies usually have the allergy for the rest of their lives.
When someone is allergic to shellfish, the body’s immune system, which normally fights infections, overreacts to proteins in the shellfish. Every time the person eats (or, in some cases, handles or breathes in) shellfish, the body thinks these proteins are harmful invaders and releases chemicals like
. This can cause symptoms such as:
Allergic reactions to shellfish can differ. Sometimes the same person can react differently at different times. Some reactions can be very mild and involve only one system of the body, like hives on the skin. Other reactions can be more severe and involve more than one part of the body.
Shellfish allergy can cause a severe reaction called anaphylaxis, even if a previous reaction was mild. Anaphylaxis might start with some of the same symptoms as a less severe reaction, but can quickly get worse. The person may have trouble breathing or pass out. More than one part of the body might be involved. If it isn’t treated, anaphylaxis can be life-threatening.
If your child has a shellfish allergy (or any kind of serious food allergy), the doctor will want him or her to carry an epinephrine auto-injector in case of an emergency.
An epinephrine auto-injector is a prescription medicine that comes in a small, easy-to-carry container. It’s easy to use. Your doctor will show you how. Kids who are old enough can be taught how to give themselves the injection. If they carry the epinephrine, it should be nearby, not left in a locker or in the nurse’s office.
Wherever your child is, caregivers should always know where the epinephrine is, have easy access to it, and know how to give the shot. Staff at your child’s school should know about the allergy and have an action plan in place. Your child’s medicines should be accessible at all times. Also consider having your child wear a medical alert bracelet.
Every second counts in an allergic reaction. If your child starts having serious allergic symptoms, like swelling of the mouth or throat or difficulty breathing, give the epinephrine auto-injector right away. Also give it right away if the symptoms involve two different parts of the body, like hives with vomiting. Then call 911 and take your child to the emergency room. Your child needs to be under medical supervision because even if the worst seems to have passed, a second wave of serious symptoms can happen.
It’s also a good idea to carry an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine for your child, as this can help treat mild allergy symptoms. Use
after — not as a replacement for — the epinephrine shot during life-threatening reactions.
If allergy testing shows that your child has a shellfish allergy, the doctor will give you guidelines on keeping your child safe. To prevent allergic reactions, your child must not eat shellfish. Your child also must not eat any foods that might contain shellfish as ingredients. Anyone who is sensitive to the smell of cooking shellfish should avoid restaurants and other areas where shellfish is being cooked.
For information on foods to avoid, check sites such as the Food Allergy Research and Education network (FARE).
Always read food labels to see if a food contains shellfish. Manufacturers of foods sold in the United States must state whether foods contain any of the top eight most common allergens, including crustacean shellfish. The label should list “shellfish” in the ingredient list or say “Contains shellfish” after the list.
Some foods look OK from the ingredient list, but while being made they can come in contact with fish. This is called cross-contamination. Look for advisory statements such as “May contain fish,” “Processed in a facility that also processes fish,” or “Manufactured on equipment also used for fish.” Not all companies label for cross-contamination, so if in doubt, call or email the company to be sure.
Manufacturers also do not have to list mollusk shellfish ingredients because mollusk shellfish (clams, mussels, oysters, or scallops) are not considered a major food allergen. When labels say a food contains shellfish, they refer to crustacean shellfish. Contact the company to see about cross-contamination risk with mollusks.
Cross-contamination often happens in restaurants. In kitchens, shellfish can get into a food product because the staff use the same surfaces, utensils (like knives, cutting boards, or pans), or oil to prepare both shellfish and other foods.
This is particularly common in seafood restaurants, so some people find it safer to avoid these restaurants. Shellfish is also used in a lot of Asian cooking, so there’s a risk of cross-contamination in Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, or Japanese restaurants. When eating at restaurants, it may be best to avoid fried foods because many places cook chicken, French fries, and shellfish in the same oil.
When eating away from home, make sure you have an epinephrine auto-injector with you and that it hasn’t expired. Also, tell the people preparing or serving your child’s food about the shellfish allergy. Sometimes, you may want to bring food with you that you know is safe. Don’t eat at the restaurant if the chef, manager, or owner seems uncomfortable with your request for a safe meal.
Also talk to the staff at school about cross-contamination risks for foods in the cafeteria. It may be best to pack lunches at home so you can control what’s in them.
Other things to keep in mind:
Shellfish allergies can be serious – and shellfish can appear in some surprising foods and products. Read about shellfish allergy and what to do when a reaction is severe.
Taking precautions and carrying meds are just part of normal life for someone who has a food allergy. Here are some tips on how to make travel also feel perfectly routine.
Find more than 30 articles in English and Spanish about all aspects of food allergies in children.
Find out what the experts have to say.
Millions of Americans, including many kids, have an allergy. Find out how allergies are diagnosed and how to keep them under control.
Although most allergic reactions aren’t serious, severe reactions can be life-threatening and can require immediate medical attention.
Food labels can help you spot allergens your child must avoid. Find out more.
A scratch or skin prick test is a common way doctors find out more about a person’s allergies.
Being prepared for an allergy emergency will help you, your child, and other caregivers respond in the event of a serious reaction.
Quick action is essential during a serious allergic reaction. It helps to remind yourself of action steps so they become second nature if there’s an emergency. Here’s what to do.
A person with severe allergies can be at risk for a sudden, serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This reaction can seem scary, but the good news is it can be treated.
Fish allergy can cause a serious reaction. Find out how to keep kids safe.
Struggling with strawberries? Petrified of peanuts? Sorry you ate shellfish? Maybe you have a food allergy. Find out more in this article for kids.
With food allergies, preventing a reaction means avoiding that food entirely. But sometimes allergens can be hidden in places you don’t expect. Here are tips on living with a food allergy.
With preparation and education, a child with a food allergy can stay safe at school.
Food allergies can cause serious and even deadly reactions in kids, so it’s important to know how to feed a child with food allergies and to prevent reactions.
Kids with severe allergies can be at risk for a sudden, serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. The good news is that when treated properly, anaphylaxis can be managed.
If your child is allergic to nuts or peanuts, it’s essential to learn what foods might contain them and how to avoid them.
Living with an egg allergy means you have to be aware of what you’re eating and read food labels carefully. Here are some tips for teens who have an egg allergy.
A growing number of kids are allergic to nuts and peanuts. Find out more about this problem and how allergic kids can stay healthy.
Doctors use several different types of allergy tests, depending on what a person may be allergic to. Find out what to expect from allergy tests.
Babies sometimes have an allergic reaction to eggs. If that happens, they can’t eat eggs for a while. But the good news is that most kids outgrow this allergy by age 5.
Find out how to make healthy food choices for your family by reading food labels.
Doctors are diagnosing more and more people with food allergies. Knowing what to expect and how to deal with food allergies can make a big difference in preventing serious illness.
Peanuts are one of the most common allergy-causing foods, and they often find their way into things you wouldn’t imagine. Learn the facts on living with a nut or peanut allergy.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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