Sesame is a popular ingredient across the world. People can use it in oils, salads, baking, and sushi. But, for some people, sesame seeds and oil cause an allergic reaction.
Sesame reactions can range from mild sensitivity to severe allergy. A severe allergy includes anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening situation.
Nobody knows precisely how many people have a sesame allergy or sensitivity. But, it might affect hundreds of thousands of people in the United States.
Food manufacturers in the U.S. do not have to list sesame as a specific ingredient in foods, though some do.
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, only 14 out of 22 major food companies clearly label sesame ingredients on their product labels. This makes it difficult for people with allergies to buy foods safely.
Sesame is in a variety of food products, as well as cosmetics, supplements, medication, and pet food.
It is vital for a person with a sesame allergy to make sure they know what ingredients are in the food they eat. This is especially true for those who have a history of severe reactions.
This article looks at some of the symptoms of a sesame allergy, what foods to avoid, and how to treat a reaction.
People with a sesame allergy may experience a variety of symptoms that can range from mild to severe.
Possible symptoms of a sesame allergy include:
- pain in the abdomen
- hoarse voice
- itchiness in the throat or mouth
- redness in the face
A person with a severe reaction to sesame may experience anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction that requires immediate medical attention.
People who may experience anaphylaxis due to sesame should carry an epinephrine injector, such as an EpiPen, with them at all times.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- trouble breathing
- rapid heartbeat
- cardiac arrest
People who experience mild symptoms should still speak to a doctor about the reaction. Some people will experience a worse reaction when they come into contact with the allergen again.
A wide variety of foods contain sesame. Foods from the Middle East or Asia frequently contain sesame oil.
Many bakeries sell bagels with sesame seed toppings, which can lead to cross-contamination.
A person with a sesame allergy should always ask about food preparation. It is essential to know whether their dish may have come into contact with sesame.
It is essential that people with a sesame allergy avoid:
- sesame seeds
- sesame oil
A person should be cautious of the following foods and ensure they are free of sesame before trying them:
- baked goods, including bread, breadsticks, hamburger buns, rolls, and bagels
- Asian dishes containing sesame oil
- cereals, such as muesli and granola
- processed meats, such as sausage
- Turkish cake or baklava
- sauces and dips, such as hummus and baba ghanoush
- sesame snap bars
- melba toast
- tortilla, pita, and bagel chips
- gravies, marinades, dressings, and sauces
- some soups
- vegetarian burgers
- herbs, including herbal teas
- flavored rice, noodles, risotto, shish kebabs, stews, and stir fry
- goma doff, a Japanese dessert
- energy and protein bars
- pasteli, a type of Greek dessert
- snack foods, such as pretzels, Halvah, Japanese snack mix, candy, and rice cakes
A person should also be wary of the following products, as they may contain sesame:
- pet food
Finally, people must know how manufacturers might list sesame in an ingredients list.
Always read labels on all foods and other items and look for other names such as:
- benne, benne seed, or benniseed
- gingelly or gingelly oil
- sesamol or sesamolina
- sesamum indicum
- sim sim
Some manufacturers might list sesame under descriptions, such as "other flavors." This is because food labeling laws do not require them to list sesame specifically.
A person can treat minor symptoms with over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines.
If a person is unaware of the cause of their allergic reaction, they should see a doctor. A doctor can help with a diagnosis, which may involve allergy testing.
If a person is showing signs of an anaphylactic reaction, they or a person with them should:
- call 911 or seek immediate medical attention
- administer epinephrine if possible (EpiPen)
- remain calm until help arrives
- help the person lie down
- assist the person if they vomit by turning their head to the side, so they do not choke
- not give the person anything to eat or drink
When help arrives, paramedics will continue to monitor a person's condition as they take them to the nearest emergency center. If this is the first time a person has had an allergic reaction, they should arrange an allergy test as soon as possible.
Many allergies develop during childhood. Parents and caregivers should take precautions to help the child avoid contact with sesame. Be sure to inform family members, teachers, and daycare staff about the allergy.
A doctor will treat a child with a sesame allergy in the same way as an adult. The child will need to learn how to identify and avoid contact with the allergen.
A parent or caregiver might also need to teach the child how to handle epinephrine.
When to see a doctor
A person should seek medical attention if they:
- experience an allergic reaction (even a mild one) for the first time
- cannot identify the cause of the reaction
- have a severe reaction that causes anaphylaxis
A doctor will need to identify the cause of the allergic reaction. If a person thinks it was sesame, the doctor can help confirm this.
Once a doctor knows what caused the allergic reaction, they can suggest treatment. Options may include antihistamines and epinephrine.
A person with a sesame allergy must be vigilant about the foods and products they use. Anyone who is not sure whether a product contains sesame should ask the store or the manufacturer.
It is best to know the other names for sesame seeds and oil, as not all ingredient lists are consistent.
If a person is at risk of anaphylaxis, they should carry an epinephrine injector.