Food and Facts

Shellfish Allergy- Can It Be Treated?

Shellfish Allergy

Before you enjoy that delicious plate of seafood, it is best to get checked for shellfish allergies. A shellfish allergy can be triggered by any mollusks and crustacean family member, such as oysters, shrimp, crabs, snails, scallops, and lobsters. We will explore the signs and symptoms of shellfish allergy, prevention, and treatment options.

Shellfish Allergy

So what qualifies as a shellfish allergy? This can be defined as the adverse reaction a person will get after they come into contact with or eat some of the species in the mollusks and crustacean family. The degree and level of adverse reaction differ from one person to another. There is a possibility to react to one species in the group but not to all of them.

How do you know you have a shellfish allergy? The body reacts by becoming inflamed, which results in an overproduction of histamine caused by the Immunoglobulin E antibody.

Detection and Diagnosis

Many hindrances mar the detection and definite determination of shellfish allergy. This complication is brought about by the fact that symptoms change between the different types of shellfish allergies and individuals. The fact is that more people are likely to react to crustaceans like shrimp and not to mollusks like snails, although both these animals are classified as shellfish.

There are different types of allergen tests that a doctor will perform to narrow down the exact shellfish that is causing the adverse effects. The allergist will serve the two main difficulties: an ImmunoCAP blood test and a skin-prick test.

Shellfish Allergy Detection and Diagnosis

A skin prick test is done by making a small prick on your arm; then, the allergist will drop some of the allergens inside using the probe. After a while, the injection site may form a small bump that confirms the presence of the allergy. The results are available within thirty minutes.

The other test is an IgE antibody or ImmunoCAP test that involves drawing blood and testing it for various allergies. The test shows the numerical degree of the allergy and is ready in two weeks. These tests are done with the utmost care because they may trigger adverse reactions if the patient is confirmed to be allergic.

People confirmed to have the allergy may be tested after some time to check whether there is an improvement in the situation. The most common test to see if the allergies have subsided is an oral food exposure to the particular shellfish to see if there is still a reaction. The doctor will have emergency medication on-site when performing this test. People whose family members have a shellfish allergy need to get tested to rule out any risk. Shellfish allergies can occur at any age and are more prone in adult women and young boys.


The signs and symptoms of a shellfish allergy are evident after some minutes or hours post-ingestion. The most common symptoms are;

  • Stomach irritation, including vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Atopic dermatitis which presents as itchy hives
  • Swelling of the face, especially the lips and tongue
  • Coughing
  • Change in skin color

Most of these primary symptoms are not life-threatening and can quickly be taken care of with medication at a pharmacy. The most significant danger of a shellfish allergy attack is anaphylaxis. The symptoms of anaphylaxis are;

  • Wheezing and difficulty in breathing due to the constricted airways
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Drop-in blood pressure that leads to shock

As soon as you notice these symptoms, it would be best to stop eating, rush to the nearest hospital, and have an ENT doctor in Philadelphia PA check you out.

Treatment Options

A shellfish allergy will most likely be persistent throughout the patient’s life instead of other allergens such as milk which may decline with time.

Therefore, it is essential to learn coping methods and the shellfish allergy treatment options available.

The most recommended prevention option is complete avoidance of the crustacean or mollusk that triggers the allergy. Patients are advised to be vigilant about the contamination of their meals with shellfish by reading labels and food menus carefully. It is also advisable to carry antihistamines to counter any reactions and an epinephrine pen that helps in the event of anaphylactic shock. Avoidance has been proven to be the most effective treatment for shellfish, even in children.

You should also be aware of hidden shellfish sources such as glucosamine supplements, imitation crab, bouillabaisse, and seafood flavorings and additives. If your child has a shellfish allergy, you should ensure that the teacher has an EpiPen for emergencies and even a medical alert bracelet, especially for younger kids.

There is also the option of exposure therapy, where the patient is given small doses of shellfish, which are increased over time, then notes any improvements or lack thereof. Oral immunotherapy involves modifying hypoallergenic from the tropomyosin that triggers the allergy, and the vaccine is given to the patient.

Some studies are looking into the viability of a DNA bacterial injection. The idea is to inject the bacterial DNA into the patient, which causes the body to produce a hypoallergenic protein. The continued production of this hypoallergenic protein should then render the patient free from the shellfish allergy. This type of immunotherapy is still underway, and the FDA has approved the use of pVAXI vaccines in humans.


There has been a concern about the correlation between shellfish allergies and iodine or radiocontrast material present in other foods apart from seafood. This was proven untrue, as shown by a recent study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine.

Crustacean and mollusk allergies do not have to be life-threatening, especially with proper prevention techniques. There is still no known cure for shellfish allergies. The treatment options available include the injection of epinephrine, antihistamine, and being careful not to ingest or touch any form of shellfish that you are allergic to.

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