Garlic is a bulb from the lily family. Used to flavor foods, it is also widely sold as a powder or oil.
True garlic allergies are rare, and a person is more likely to have an intolerance. In this article, we look at symptoms of garlic allergies and intolerances. We also describe foods to avoid and how to prevent an allergic reaction.
An allergy occurs when the body comes into contact with a foreign substance and overreacts, releasing inflammatory immune cells.
These reactions can range from mild to severe. If a person has a mild reaction at one point, they may have a severe reaction later on.
Symptoms associated with a food allergy include:
- a cough
- difficulty swallowing
- stomach cramping
- tingling, especially around the mouth
At its most severe, a garlic allergy could trigger anaphylaxis. This causes the throat to swell, which can make it difficult to breathe.
A person may also have a garlic intolerance, which is different from an allergy. An intolerance can cause unpleasant symptoms but does not trigger an immune system response.
Examples of symptoms associated with a garlic intolerance include:
- a runny nose
These symptoms typically take longer to appear than those of an allergy. Allergic reactions usually occur soon after eating or coming into contact with a problematic food, while symptoms of an intolerance may take several hours to appear.
Food allergies occur when the body reacts to a typically harmless substance as if it were a foreign invader, such as a cold or flu virus. The body fights off the perceived threat with an inflammatory response, leading to symptoms such as sneezing, swelling, and coughing.
Doctors do not know why some people experience allergies to certain foods and not others.
They do know that having a family history of allergies increases a person’s risk.
Children tend to have more food allergies than adults, but symptoms may fade as they age.
Garlic is used to season a wide variety of foods. A person with an intolerance may be able to consume small amounts of garlic without experiencing symptoms. However, some people with intolerances or allergies experience severe symptoms every time they eat garlic.
Foods that usually contain garlic include:
- pastas, such as lasagna and spaghetti
- butters and oils
Garlic, onions and similar vegetables belong to the lily family. Anyone with a garlic allergy or intolerance may also be sensitive to onions, chives, leeks, or shallots. Consume these vegetables with caution until adverse reactions have been ruled out.
The following tips can help to avoid garlic in meals:
- Garlic and onions may not be specifically mentioned in lists of ingredients, but instead included among “seasonings” or “flavorings.”
- Some food manufacturers include a phone number on packaging, so a person can call and ask about any allergens.
- Inform restaurant staff about an allergy to garlic or onions, to ensure that no pre-made foods or sauces contain these ingredients.
Some people carry a card or wear a bracelet that identifies their allergies. They are designed to inform medical staff and speed up treatment in the event of a severe allergic reaction.
Doctors can test for many common food allergies. One test involves gently pricking the skin on the forearm and placing a small liquid sample of the potential allergen on the area. If the skin becomes inflamed, the person may be allergic.
However, no skin prick test can currently be used to diagnose a garlic allergy. If a doctor cannot make a confident diagnosis based on symptoms alone, they may request that a person consumes some garlic before undergoing a blood test, to check for an immune system response.
Garlic allergies are rare, so a person is more likely to have an intolerance.
Avoiding this common ingredient may be challenging. A person should thoroughly explain the potential consequences to restaurant personnel, family, and friends.
See a specialist for more information about an allergy to garlic and treatment options. For people who require quick relief from severe reactions, the doctor may prescribe an epinephrine injector, commonly known as an EpiPen.