Eggplant is a common, nutrient-rich food that can be found in many different recipes. Unfortunately, some people develop an allergy to eggplant that can drastically affect their diet, depending on the severity of their reaction.
Allergies to eggplant, or aubergine, are fairly uncommon. Eggplants are a member of the nightshade family of plants, whose members contain substances known as alkaloids. These alkaloids can be highly poisonous to humans but only in some species of the nightshade family.
Eggplant, similarly to tomato, is a fruit typically mistaken for a vegetable. Eggplant is used in a variety of cuisines and in many vegetarian dishes as a meat substitute. People with eggplant allergies need to be aware that the presence of eggplant in a dish may not be obvious.
Eggplant allergies commonly develop in childhood but can develop later in life as well.
Symptoms of an eggplant allergy are similar to symptoms of other food allergies. A person with an eggplant allergy may notice the following symptoms while eating or shortly after eating eggplant:
- itchy mouth, throat, or lips
- tingling tongue
- stomach discomfort
- swelling around lips and mouth
Most of the time, people with an eggplant allergy will experience symptoms almost immediately after eating eggplant. Occasionally, however, the onset of symptoms may not start until a few hours after exposure.
In most cases, the symptoms of eggplant allergies are not severe. However, people with allergies should be aware of the risk of anaphylaxis. An anaphylaxis reaction is a life-threatening condition that needs emergency medical attention.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include the following:
- difficulty breathing
- throat swelling
- low pulse
- trouble swallowing
Eggplant belongs to a family of plants known as nightshades. People may be more likely to develop an eggplant allergy if they are also allergic to other nightshades, including tomatoes, potatoes, or peppers.
Eggplant also contains a chemical called salicylate, which is an ingredient in aspirin. This means people with an aspirin allergy or salicylate sensitivity may also be more likely to develop an eggplant allergy or intolerance to too much salicylate.
Typically, an eggplant allergy will develop in early childhood. Older children and adults may also develop an eggplant allergy or an allergy to other nightshade plants throughout their lifetime.
A person may have eaten eggplant before with no effects and still develop an allergy later.
People with food allergy symptoms should see a doctor when the source of their allergy symptoms is unknown.
Additionally, anyone with an eggplant allergy or allergy to other foods should seek emergency medical care if they experience symptoms of anaphylaxis.
Some people know right away that eggplant is the food causing their allergy symptoms. They eat an eggplant and immediately experience symptoms.
Other people may have delayed symptoms and need a doctor's help to diagnose a cause of their allergic reaction. They may be referred to an allergist if the cause of the reaction is not clear. An allergist can help a person identify additional foods that may trigger allergic reactions.
When seeing an allergist, someone can expect to give a detailed medical history, including any other known allergies. The allergist is likely to ask several questions about when the symptoms start and how severe they are.
While Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody levels and skin prick tests may be done to help with a diagnosis, the allergist is likely to recommend that someone with symptoms follows a special diet. They may also suggest the person keeps a food diary until the source of the allergy is identified.
People with an eggplant allergy need to be cautious about what foods they eat. In addition to specific eggplant dishes, eggplant may appear less obviously in other recipes as well.
Eggplant is a popular meat substitute in many vegetarian dishes, so it is always a good idea to check labels on vegetarian products, including veggie burgers bought in stores and restaurants.
People with eggplant allergies may be allergic to other nightshades, including:
- white potatoes
- goji berries
- pepper seasonings
The salicylate in eggplants may be responsible for the allergy or intolerance symptoms in some people. These people may need to avoid other foods where this chemical occurs naturally.
People with normal IgE antibody levels but with salicylate sensitivity may be able to tolerate a small amount of salicylate before they begin experiencing symptoms.
Other foods with salicylate include:
It may be a good idea to develop a dietary plan. A doctor or nutritionist can help develop a plan that will help a person avoid potential trigger foods and still get enough necessary nutrients throughout their day.
Keeping a food journal may also help track which foods trigger an allergic reaction.
For minor reactions, a person can usually use an over-the-counter medication such as Benadryl.
For first time reactions, a person should see his or her doctor as soon as possible. A doctor can determine if the person had a reaction to eggplant or if the allergic reaction was caused from a different source. This will help determine a treatment plan.
In cases of anaphylaxis shock, a person will need immediate medical attention. Anaphylactic shock occurs within minutes of the exposure and can be life-threatening.
If someone is going into shock, bystanders should:
- call 911 immediately
- use an EpiPen if available
- remove restricting clothing
- lay the person down flat with feet slightly elevated
- perform CPR if necessary
- turn the person's head to the side if they are vomiting
- avoid giving any medication other than the EpiPen, as the person may be allergic
People with an eggplant allergy can manage their allergy by avoiding eggplant and other trigger foods. If exposed accidentally, they can reduce their allergy symptoms with an over-the-counter antihistamine.
A person with an eggplant allergy may be allergic to other nightshades and may need to avoid eating them if their allergy is severe or their IgE antibody levels are high.
In cases where a person has a severe eggplant allergy, a doctor will likely prescribe an EpiPen for emergency use. In cases where a person with an eggplant allergy goes into anaphylactic shock, emergency intervention is needed.