Oat Allergy Symptoms: Triggers, Substitutes, Treatment
If you have an oat allergy, it’s not just food exposure that can lead to allergy symptoms. Aveeno, Nature’s Gate, and other over-the-counter skin care products often contain oats which may cause a skin reaction in people with oat sensitivity.
Many popular brands list oat protein as an ingredient in products intended to treat dry or irritated skin. It is often called colloidal, or finely ground oatmeal. But people with oat allergies, both adults and children, may instead experience an itchy rash or eczema symptoms.
This article explains why skin products can cause oatmeal allergy symptoms. It details how an allergic reaction to oats is diagnosed and treated, including what to do if a severe allergic reaction occurs.
Quick Facts About Oat Ingredients
Usually, skin care products that contain oats are intended for to treat conditions like atopic dermatitisa chronic type of eczema rash and in many cases they provide symptom relief.
For people with oat sensitivities, however, these products may actually be the cause of an allergic reaction. Many types of oats, as well as other grains such as barley, contain avenin.
This protein is known to cause an immune system response in some people who avoid gluten, often because they have been diagnosed with celiac disease. People with an oatmeal allergy may experience symptoms such as:
- To sneeze
- Nasal congestion (stuffy nose)
- Watery and itchy eyes
- Stomach ache
These systemic or body-wide symptoms are more likely when someone with an oat allergy eats oat products rather than being exposed through the skin. This includes young children, who can develop food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES) by eating certain grains, including oats.
In the United States, the Food & Drug Administration requires that colloidal oatmeal be listed on the label of any over-the-counter skin product that claims to treat atopic dermatitis. In some cases, however, oats are actually the cause rash and associated symptoms.
Oat Allergy Symptoms
People with an oat allergy will usually have red, mottled patches on the skin called urticaria, or hives. In some cases, an outbreak can occur if a person accidentally touches oats and then other parts of the body.
These types of skin reactions range from mild to severe. Symptoms can include:
- Crusty or scaly skin around the eyes and lips
Keep in mind that you may experience a delayed reaction to contact with oats. Symptoms of a delayed reaction may take anywhere from a few hours to three days to appear.
Not all sources of your contact with oats will be from food or skin care products. For example, many latex-free exam gloves also contain colloidal oatmeal. If you have symptoms of contact dermatitis due to an oat allergy, discuss possible sources with your healthcare provider.
When to seek immediate care
In rare cases, a serious and life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis may occur. This type of body-wide allergic reaction often begins with swelling of the lips and tongue and itching in the throat, eyes and ears. These symptoms may soon be followed by:
- severe hives
- Difficulty breathing
- Edema or swelling of the face
- Changes in heart rate (fast or slow)
- chest pain
- Cyanosisor a bluish color to the lips or fingers
- A sense of impending doom
If any of the symptoms of anaphylaxis develop, whether or not you were knowingly exposed to oats, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. If treatment is delayed, the condition may worsen and lead to anaphylactic shock and even death.
Oat skin allergies in children
Many skin care products are marketed for children, such as Johnson’s Vanilla Oatmeal Baby Lotion or Babyganics Eczema Care Skin Barrier Cream. But many of these products contain oats, wheat, and other food allergy triggers that can cause a reaction when used on sensitive skin.
A study of 276 different skin care products for children found that more than a third of product labels mentioned a food-borne allergen. In fact, there were 156 such ingredients, including almonds, eggs, milk, and peanuts. Oats were listed as an ingredient in 8.3% of the products surveyed.
Some experts have questioned whether all children (or children with other allergies) should avoid exposure to oatmeal in moisturizers. Many health care providers support their use in patients who have no known sensitivity to oats.
Previous research suggests that about one in seven children with atopic dermatitis included in a 2007 study already had contact sensitization to oats. That number jumped to about one in three when looking only at children who had ever been exposed to an oatmeal-based moisturizer.
It is important to confirm any oat allergy symptoms you or your child are experiencing. As with most food allergies, your healthcare provider may suggest an elimination diet. This is a strategy used to isolate a specific food that is causing symptoms and can be done with an allergy specialist.
Other ways to diagnose oatmeal sensitivity include skin tests, such as the patch test for contact allergy. In this test, a patch containing a small amount of the supposed allergenic substance is placed on the skin for several days to see if there is a reaction.
If testing confirms an oat allergy, you’ll want to avoid exposure to foods and skin products that contain oats. Most people could easily identify oatmeal, but other products include:
- oat milk
- Cookies and other baked goods
- Cereals containing oats
- Snacks with oat ingredients
If you or your child develop allergy symptoms after using an oatmeal skin care product, you’ll want to start treatment right away.
When the skin is irritated or has a rash, be sure to wash it properly with cold water and mild soap. If the rash is mild and covers a small area, you can try an over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream to help relieve swelling and itching.
An oral antihistamine can sometimes help. For children, an over-the-counter product like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can usually do the trick. Other antihistamines include Claritin (loratadine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine).
However, if the rash is severe or blisters start to develop, call your healthcare provider immediately or go to the nearest emergency room.
If your child is under 2 years old, talk to your pediatrician or other healthcare professional before using any allergy or anti-inflammatory product.
Sometimes people with food allergies have to be as careful with the products they put on their bodies as they are with the foods they put on them. This is the case for people with oat allergy symptoms.
These symptoms, such as a red rash and itchy or irritated skin, can occur when your skin comes in contact with oats. This is often the case with creams and moisturizers, especially for children.
In many cases, the symptoms will go away with simple treatments and over-the-counter medications. If you have a severe allergic reaction to an oat product, you need medical help right away.
A word from Verywell
You may be surprised to learn that oatmeal skin care products intended to relieve dry, itchy skin may actually cause symptoms for you or your child. If so, suspect oatmeal sensitivity and contact your healthcare provider.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can oats cause diarrhea?
Usually, oats are considered a good food choice for people with diarrhea. they may be an alternative food for people on the diarrheal BRAT diet. But if you’re not used to eating oats or have a food allergy, it can upset your digestive health. This is especially true for young children.
What are good oat substitutes?
When you can’t eat or use oat products, you may need to look for solid alternatives beyond gluten-free rolled oats. If it’s a food item, consider gluten-free grains like quinoa or try brown rice. If you need skincare, makeup, pet food, and other product options, shop around. There are many oat-free and gluten-free products on the market.
Can you tell if you are allergic to oats without consulting an allergist?
An oat allergy may seem obvious to you based on your experience, and you may find symptom relief by keeping a food diary to identify episodes or avoiding oat products through elimination. What you can’t do is diagnose oatmeal sensitivity yourself. Your healthcare provider or allergy specialist has the expertise to do this, so share this information with them.