What's to know about cinnamon allergy?
Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of several trees that are native to China, India, and Southeast Asia.
It's a popular ingredient in many foods, drinks, and personal care products.
The spice has been popular for many centuries, not only for its flavor but also for its medicinal properties and its range of health benefits.
However, a few people will experience an allergic reaction. These people have a high sensitivity to the proteins in the spice.
Foods and drinks containing cinnamon
Cinnamon comes as whole sticks or powder, or it may be a hidden ingredient in a ready-made food.
Cinnamon is present in a wide range of foods and drinks, including:
- baked goods
- puddings and desserts
- candy and chewing gum
- breakfast cereals and cereal bars
- foods such as curries and flavored rice
- spice blends such as Chinese five spice or garam masala
- soups and sauces
- herbal teas, specialty coffees, and other drinks
- restaurant and takeout meals
People should be aware that cinnamon may not appear directly in a list of ingredients on a food product.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allow producers to list some ingredients, including cinnamon, under headings such as "flavors," "spices," or "flavoring." Cinnamon may also be listed on labels as "cassia" or "mixed spice."
Cinnamon may also be present in personal hygiene products, such as:
- fragrances and perfumes
The label may only show "fragrance" or "flavoring," rather than "cinnamon."
Symptoms of an allergy include nausea and dizziness. If anyone has difficulty breathing, this could be anaphylaxis, a medical emergency.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), approximately 2 to 3 percent of those with food allergies live with a spice allergy.
Most commonly, spices cause a non-allergic reaction-such as a rash or a cough from inhaling the spice.
Rarely, people report anaphylaxis. This is a severe allergic reaction.
Reactions can occur during or after breathing, eating, or even touching the spice.
They vary between people, and they can range from mild to severe.
Some common symptoms include:
- stomach pain
- tingling, itching or swelling of the face or other parts of the body
- difficulty breathing
- rashes, inflammation, irritation, or blistering of the skin
In rare cases, a cinnamon allergy may cause anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal, severe allergic reaction.
Anaphylaxis needs urgent medical attention.
- a sudden drop in blood pressure
- difficulty breathing
- loss of consciousness
Without treatment, it can lead to coma or death.
An anaphylactic reaction may occur in the seconds or minutes after exposure to an allergen. Occasionally, it can take place 30 minutes or more after exposure.
Living with a cinnamon allergy
People who have a cinnamon allergy need to take care, because cinnamon is common in cooking and cosmetics.
People who have a cinnamon allergy should work closely with an allergist to manage their condition. A nutritionist or dietician may help them to ensure they meet their nutritional needs.
Other strategies for living with a cinnamon allergy include paying close attention to product labels when shopping, preparing meals when possible, and informing any restaurant staff of allergies when dining out.
Cinnamon replacement options for cooking
People add cinnamon to both sweet and savory foods, including baked goods. Ginger, nutmeg, and other spices can replace it.
People can replace cinnamon with similar spices when cooking at home.
Possible substitutes include:
When people prepare food at home, they can be more certain about which ingredients they include. However, items such as "mixed spice" and cake mixes may still contain cinnamon.
People who have reactions to multiple foods or unrelated foods may have a reaction to cinnamon.
If reactions occur after consuming pre-packaged or restaurant foods but do not occur after eating homemade versions of the same items, they could be due to a spice allergy.
It is important to remember that reactions can develop after touching or inhaling cinnamon and other spices. People should check personal care products and other household items thoroughly to see if they contain cinnamon.
Keeping a record of the foods, drinks, and other items that trigger symptoms can be very helpful when diagnosing allergies.
Working with a doctor or allergy specialist is important when diagnosing a cinnamon allergy.
These healthcare professionals can recommend suitable blood tests, skin prick tests, or diets to find the allergen accurately.
Cinnamon allergy or intolerance?
An allergy occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly identifies a specific substance in a food as harmful. The body then releases certain antibodies to destroy the allergen.
When the person consumes the food again — even in tiny quantities — the antibodies immediately signal the release of chemicals. These cause the various allergy symptoms.
An intolerance to a particular food can cause many of the same symptoms as a true allergy, but the antibodies will not be present.
Symptoms that can occur with spice that are a sign of an intolerance rather than an allergy may include:
- a skin rash
- itching in the mouth
- coughing after breathing in the spice
Many people with an intolerance can eat limited amounts of their problem foods without having any adverse reactions.
It is best to work with an allergist or doctor to figure out the difference between a cinnamon allergy and a cinnamon intolerance.
Treatment usually involves limiting exposure to cinnamon or completely avoiding it.
To relieve symptoms of an allergic reaction, a doctor may recommend the use of an antihistamine medication, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl).
When a person has a food allergy diagnosis, a doctor or allergist may give them a prescription for an epinephrine auto-injector. If anaphylaxis or severe breathing problems occur, this can relieve symptoms until emergency medical help arrives.
The ACAAI recommend that children with a cinnamon or other allergy and their caretakers should also carry an epinephrine auto-injector, in case a reaction happens outside the home. Their school teachers and other responsible adults should know about the child's allergy.
Many schools have a supply of epinephrine to use in an emergency.
When to see a doctor
People should contact a doctor if they suspect a cinnamon or other food allergy. In cases of anaphylaxis, people should seek emergency medical assistance.
If I have a cinnamon allergy, am I more likely to have an other spice allergy?
There is very little information specifically on cinnamon allergies, but spice allergies in general are rare.
People have reported anaphylaxis after exposure to oregano, thyme, coriander, caraway seeds and cumin.
Some people may react to certain familys of foods, for example, from the Apiaceae family, which includes carrots, caraway, fennel, coriander, fungreek, cumin, dill, and aniseed, as well as other things.
However, I have not seen anything that included cinnamon in a larger group.Suzanne Falck, MD, FACP Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.