Cinnamon is a mild spice that is harvested from the inner bark of several trees native to China, India, and Southeast Asia.
It's a popular ingredient in many foods, drinks, and personal care products.
Although cinnamon has been prized for many centuries for its medicinal properties and its range of health benefits, not everyone should consume this spice.
Some individuals experience an allergic reaction to cinnamon. This is caused by a high sensitivity to the proteins in the spice.
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Living with a cinnamon allergy
It's recommended that those with a cinnamon allergy work closely with an allergist to manage their condition.
Living with a cinnamon allergy requires care as spices are so common in cooking and cosmetics.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology state that patients living with spice allergies can experience a low quality of life, restrictive diets, and even malnutrition as they attempt to avoid trigger foods. For these reasons, it's recommended that those who are allergic to cinnamon and other spices work closely with an allergist to manage their condition.
Consulting a nutritionist or dietician may also be useful to ensure nutritional needs are met.
Other strategies for living with a cinnamon allergy include paying close attention to product labels when shopping, preparing meals when possible, and informing restaurant staff of allergies when dining out.
Cinnamon-containing foods and drinks
Cinnamon can be found in a wide range of foods and beverages including:
- Baked goods
- Puddings and desserts
- Candy and chewing gum
- Breakfast cereals and cereal bars
- Ethnic 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 the United States Food and Drug Administration allow some ingredients, including cinnamon, to be listed under headings such as "flavors," "spices," or "flavoring." Cinnamon may also be listed on labels as "cassia" or "mixed spice."
Cinnamon can also be found in personal hygiene products such as toothpaste and mouthwash, and in fragrances and perfumes. In these products, it may simply be labeled as "fragrance" or "flavoring."
Cinnamon replacement options for cooking
Cinnamon can be replaced with similar spices when cooking at home. Possible substitutes include:
Symptoms of cinnamon allergy
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, approximately 2 percent of those with food allergies live with a spice allergy. Cinnamon is one of the more common spice allergies.
Symptoms can be triggered by breathing, eating, or even touching the spice. They vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. Some common symptoms include:
Many foods contain cinnamon but cinnamon can be replaced with similar spices when cooking at home.
- 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, cinnamon allergy may cause anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal, severe allergic reaction.
Anaphylaxis requires urgent medical attention and is marked by a sudden drop in blood pressure, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, and shock. If left untreated, it can lead to coma or even 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.
Diagnosing a cinnamon allergy
People who have reactions to multiple foods, or unrelated foods, should consider the possibility of a cinnamon allergy. If reactions occur after consuming pre-packaged or restaurant foods, but don't occur after eating homemade versions of the same items, a spice allergy should also be looked into.
It's important to remember that allergy symptoms 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 in the diagnosis of 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?
A true food allergy occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly identifies a specific substance in that food as harmful. Certain antibodies are then released to destroy the allergen. Once the food is consumed again - even in tiny quantities - the antibodies immediately signal the release of chemicals which cause the various allergy symptoms.
Although an intolerance to a particular food can cause many of the same symptoms as a true allergy, the antibodies will not be present. According to the Mayo Clinic, many people with an intolerance can eat limited amounts of their problem foods without having any adverse reactions.
Individuals with a mugwort pollen allergy may also be allergic to cinnamon due to cross-reactivity between proteins found in these two substances.
Working out the difference between a cinnamon allergy and a cinnamon intolerance is best done by working with an allergist or doctor.
Risk factors for developing cinnamon allergy
Due to the increasing use of spices in both food and personal care products, some experts anticipate a rise in spice allergies, including cinnamon allergy.
Women are more likely to develop such an allergy, as they are exposed to larger quantities of spices than men are, through greater use of beauty products and fragrances.
The Norwegian Asthma and Allergy Association state that those who experience a mugwort pollen allergy may also be allergic to cinnamon. This is due to cross-reactivity between the proteins of these two substances. Such allergy symptoms may worsen from late summer until fall for this reason.
Treatment for cinnamon allergy
Treating a cinnamon allergy usually requires that the patient completely avoids the spice, or at least limits their exposure to it.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction can be relieved by taking a dose of Benadryl. An oral antihistamine is also effective at reducing allergy symptoms and can be used as a preventive measure should exposure to cinnamon be possible.
Once diagnosed with a food allergy, patients should be prescribed an epinephrine auto-injector by their doctor or allergist. This should be used as treatment should anaphylaxis or severe breathing problems occur.
Children with cinnamon allergies and their caretakers should also be issued with an epinephrine auto-injector, particularly as fatal and near-fatal food allergy reactions often take place outside the home.
When to see a doctor
Contact a doctor if a cinnamon or another food allergy is suspected. In cases of anaphylaxis, people should seek emergency medical assistance.