Sian Baker

Medically reviewed by Sian Baker, Dip ION mBANT mCNHC
on March 8, 2024. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Check My Body Health blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Flaxseed Allergy: An Emerging Allergen That Can Cause Allergic Reactions, Including Anaphylaxis, in Children and Adults

In recent years, the rise in awareness of food allergies has shed light on various lesser-known allergens, including flaxseed. Primarily celebrated for its nutritional benefits, flaxseed has become a concern for individuals susceptible to allergic reactions. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the nuances of flaxseed allergy, exploring its symptoms, testing methods, and common queries surrounding its consumption.

What is flaxseed?

Flaxseed, also known as linseed, is derived from the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum) and has been cultivated for centuries for its versatile uses. Renowned for its high fiber content, omega-3 fatty acids, and lignans, flaxseed has earned a reputation as a superfood with various health benefits. From promoting heart health to aiding digestion, its nutritional profile has made it a popular addition to diets worldwide.

How common is a flaxseed allergy?

While flaxseed allergy was once considered rare, emerging research suggests a growing prevalence (American college of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology). This trend parallels the increased consumption of flaxseed and its incorporation into various food products, including bread, cereals, and baked goods. Individuals with existing allergies or sensitivities may be at a higher risk of developing an allergic reaction to flaxseed, necessitating vigilance in dietary choices.

Symptoms of flaxseed allergy:

Recognizing the symptoms of flaxseed allergy is crucial for prompt identification and management. Allergic reactions typically show after ingestion (and within 20 minutes after consuming) and can vary in severity and may manifest differently among individuals. Common symptoms include:

  1. Skin Reactions: Itchy skin, hives, eczema, or swelling may occur upon contact with flaxseed or flaxseed-derived products.
  2. Respiratory Issues: Asthma-like symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, or difficulty breathing, may arise after ingesting or inhaling flaxseed particles.
  3. Gastrointestinal Distress: Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or diarrhea may occur as the body reacts to flaxseed consumption.
  4. Anaphylaxis: In severe cases, individuals may experience anaphylaxis, characterized by a sudden drop in blood pressure, rapid pulse, and potential loss of consciousness. This life-threatening reaction requires immediate medical attention.

Testing for flaxseed allergy:

Diagnosing any allergy typically involves a combination of medical history assessment, physical examination, and testing. Common methods include:

  1. Skin Prick Test: In a controlled environment, a small amount of flaxseed extract is applied to the skin, and the area is pricked to allow the allergen to enter the skin. A positive reaction, indicated by redness, swelling, or itching, suggests an allergy.
  2. Blood Tests: Allergy-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) blood tests measure the presence of antibodies produced in response to flaxseed allergens. Elevated IgE levels indicate sensitisation to flaxseed proteins.
  3. Oral Food Challenge: Under medical supervision, individuals consume increasing amounts of flaxseed to observe for allergic reactions. This controlled method helps confirm or rule out a flaxseed allergy.

Cross-reactivity and other food allergies

Individuals allergic to flaxseed may also experience cross-reactivity with other foods sharing similar protein structures, such as sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and poppy seeds, which can trigger allergic reactions due to shared allergenic proteins. Additionally, individuals with nut allergies should exercise caution, as cross-reactivity between flaxseed and nuts is possible in some cases, despite flaxseed being botanically distinct from nuts.

Frequently asked questions

Is it safe to give infants foods containing flaxseed?

Introducing flaxseed to infants should be approached with caution if there is a family history of allergies. Consultation with a paediatrician is recommended before incorporating flaxseed into an infant’s diet.

Can you eat flaxseed if you have a nut allergy?

People with nut allergies should consult with an allergist before consuming flaxseed. While flaxseed is not a nut, cross-reactivity may occur in some cases. It’s essential to undergo appropriate allergy testing and guidance from a healthcare professional.

Flaxseed allergy is a growing concern, necessitating awareness and caution, particularly among individuals with existing allergies. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of flaxseed allergy, along with appropriate testing methods, is crucial for accurate diagnosis and management. Additionally, understanding potential cross-reactivity with other foods can help individuals make informed dietary choices. As research continues to evolve, staying informed and seeking guidance from healthcare professionals remain paramount in navigating flaxseed allergy effectively.

Q: What are the signs and symptoms of flaxseed allergy?

A: Signs and symptoms of flaxseed allergy can include dermatitis, contact dermatitis, rash, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis.

Q: Can flaxseed cause allergic reactions?

A: Yes, flaxseed can cause allergic reactions in some individuals, particularly those with existing allergies to nuts and seeds.

Q: How is flaxseed allergy diagnosed?

A: Flaxseed allergy can be diagnosed through skin prick tests, blood tests, and oral food challenges conducted by allergists.

Q: What treatments are available for flaxseed allergy?

A: Management of flaxseed allergy involves avoidance of flaxseed and products containing flaxseed. In case of accidental ingestion, antihistamines or epinephrine may be used to manage symptoms.

Q: Are there any emerging allergens related to flaxseed?

A: Flaxseed is considered an emerging allergen, with reports of allergy in children and even non-atopic toddlers polysensitized to tree nuts.

Q: Can a person be allergic to flaxseed oil?

A: Yes, individuals can be allergic to flaxseed oil, as it contains proteins that can trigger allergic reactions in some people.

Q: What are some common foods that may contain flaxseed?

A: Foods like oatmeal with premixed flaxseed, bread, and other baked goods may contain flaxseed as an ingredient.

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