Garlic has been cultivated for thousands of years for its flavour and its many health benefits, so regularly that around 25 million tons of garlic are produced each year! But what happens if everyone’s go-to vampire repellent has you running for the hills too?
By Elana Botha
Garlic is widely recognized all over the world and in many cultures for its health benefits and has been used in traditional medicines as an antibiotic, anti-fungal and anti inflammatory agent. For most people, the main discomforts associated with garlic are bad breath and body odour but for those who have an allergy to garlic, it can be a very uncomfortable experience and sometimes even dangerous to come into contact with garlic.
We spoke to Dr Candice Royal, Paediatrician and Allergologist at The KidsAllergy Paediatric and Allergy Centre in Cape Town about allergies and what to be on the lookout for if you think you may have an allergy to garlic.
“An allergy is an immune response to a food that causes symptoms in multiple systems, most commonly the skin, and may be potentially life-threatening.” explains Dr Royal, “The reaction does not relate to the amount of the food eaten and, in many people, may be triggered by minute exposures.”
“Most people are aware of allergies to milk, egg and nuts but people can be allergic to almost any food.” says Dr Royal, “Spice allergy, including allergy to garlic, is less common and thought to occur in 1 in a 1000 people. Garlic is a very common spice used throughout the world and is thus one of the more common types of spice allergy. The prevalence of garlic allergy in children is not known but it is thought to be rare.”
An allergic reaction can cause symptoms like hives, swelling, vomiting and even difficulty breathing and
collapse. “Garlic allergy can present in 3 different ways, “ says Dr Royal, “ It may cause a rash on the skin due to direct contact with the garlic allergen, breathing in garlic powder may cause asthma (shortness of breath, cough, wheeze) in allergic people or a garlic allergy may cause symptoms ranging from hives to anaphylaxis when eaten.”
Food allergies are often confused with food intolerances, but it is important to note that food intolerances are usually less severe than food allergies and symptoms are typically limited to the digestive system. As Dr Royal explains, “An intolerance is an abnormal reaction to a food that does not involve the immune system. An intolerance may be caused by a lack of an enzyme involved in the digestion of the food, such as lactose intolerance or due to a sensitivity to the chemical properties of a food, such as caffeine in coffee.
Intolerances are dose-dependent so a little may not cause a problem but eat too much and symptoms may be experienced.”
With its widespread usage in a variety of foods, garlic can be a difficult substance to avoid. If you have a garlic allergy you could be allergic to either cooked or raw garlic, or both – and you may also have some sensitivity to the other vegetables of the Liliaceae family such as onions, chives, leeks or shallots as they all have similar characteristics.
If you suspect you or your children may be allergic to garlic, it is best to seek the advice of your doctor. As Dr Royal says, “Allergic conditions are common, long-term health conditions that have a massive impact on individuals and their families. Unmanaged they have a major impact on quality of life and in certain cases, can be life-threatening.”
A Doctor can talk to you about the symptoms and history of your experiences and can perform a skin test or a blood test to confirm if you have a garlic allergy and work with you as you navigate a management plan.
An allergy to garlic is no joke and it may make planning your family meals trickier but there is a wonderful world full of other flavours and spices out there for you to try if you need to replace garlic from your diet – and you’ll have the added benefit of no dreaded garlic breath.
For more information and useful resources about allergies or to book a visit to see Dr Candice Royal, visit www.kidsallergy.co.za. For more health information from a paediatrician and a parent, follow Dr Royal on SM at @drcandiceroyal