Symptoms, cross-reactivity, foods to avoid
Coconut allergy is very rare. There are only a few reported cases of coconut food allergy in the medical literature.
Coconut is the seed of the coconut tree. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies coconut as a tree nut. This is for labeling purposes. Coconut is actually a fruit, not a nut.
Most people with tree nut allergies can safely eat coconut, but talk to your doctor first.
This article reviews the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of coconut allergy. It also covers foods to avoid if you have a coconut allergy.
What is coconut allergy?
In rare cases, a person may have an allergic reaction after eating coconut. An allergic reaction occurs when your body mistakes a harmless substance for a threat.
Allergic reactions to coconut on the skin, called contact dermatitis, are more common than coconut food allergies. Because coconut allergy is rare, researchers don’t know if someone with a coconut allergy can safely use coconut-based skin care products, or vice versa. If you have a coconut allergy, ask your doctor before using coconut-derived products.
Likewise, if you are allergic to tree nuts, it is best to consult your doctor before adding coconut to your diet. Indeed, a few people have been found to be allergic to nuts and coconut.
Coconut Allergy Symptoms
People with a coconut allergy may experience food allergy symptoms after drinking or eating foods made from coconut. These reactions can include:
Severe reactions, called anaphylaxis, can occur in case of coconut allergy. These reactions can affect several organ systems.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Fast or slow heartbeat
- feeling confused or anxious
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- throat swelling
You may have symptoms all over your body.
Coconut anaphylaxis is extremely rare.
Contact dermatitis and coconut allergy
Some people may suffer from allergic contact dermatitis after being exposed to coconut-derived products. These products include:
- Coconut diethanolamide
- Cocamide sulfate
- Cocamide DEA
These ingredients can be found in personal care products like:
- Hand washing liquids
An itchy, blistering rash may develop a day or two after contact with the coconut allergen. It may take several days to disappear.
If you suspect contact dermatitis from coconut, contact your doctor. Tests can confirm if you have a coconut allergy.
to sum up
If you’re allergic to coconut, you may experience hives, stomach upset, breathing problems, or swelling after eating something that contains coconut.
Some people may experience contact dermatitis after using skincare products that contain coconut. This usually appears as an itchy, blistered rash.
Cross-reactivity and coconut allergy
Cross-reactivity occurs when you are allergic to two or more different substances that contain similar allergenic proteins.
Coconuts are most closely related to other palm and betel nuts. This type of relationship is not the only factor that determines whether two foods will cross-react. Close relatives, however, often have related allergenic proteins.
Cashews and pistachios, for example, are closely related. They also contain similar proteins. People allergic to one are often also allergic to the other.
There is evidence of cross-reactivity between:
- Coconut and hazelnuts
- Coconut and nuts
Because coconuts and tree nuts are not closely related, most people with tree nut allergies can probably tolerate coconut.
Diagnosing and Treating Coconut Allergy
Coconut allergy is usually diagnosed by an allergist. To make the diagnoses, your allergist will:
Coconut allergy is treated with dietary changes. If you are allergic to coconut, you will need to eliminate coconut from your diet. This means completely avoiding all foods containing coconut. This is the only way to avoid an allergic reaction.
The Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) identifies coconut as a tree nut. This is for product labeling purposes. These labels help protect consumers from potential allergens.
Under FALCPA, manufacturers must list coconut as a potential allergenic ingredient. This information must appear either in the list of ingredients or in a statement at the end of the list. They are not, however, required to say if a product is made in a facility that also processes coconut. This type of labeling is voluntary.
Not all products mention coconut derivatives on the label. If you are concerned that a product contains a coconut derivative, you can call the manufacturer and ask about the specific ingredients. You can also choose not to use the product.
to sum up
Coconut allergy is diagnosed based on your medical history, physical exam, and allergy test. If you are allergic to coconut, you will need to avoid all foods containing coconut.
Foods to Avoid for Coconut Allergy
It can be difficult to avoid coconut in food. You must learn to read food labels. Coconut is present in many foods as a derivative. These are coconut-based substances.
Coconut is found in many food products. It is sometimes added for flavor and texture. Foods most likely to contain coconut include:
- Granola bars
- Curry sauces
- Other types of desserts
You can also find coconut in surprising places, like:
- Infant formula
- Soaps and shampoos
Watch for any form of coconut on the label, including:
- Coconut milk
- coconut water
- Coconut oil, although highly refined oils are generally not a problem
- coconut cream
- powdered coconut milk
- coconut sugar
Foods that may contain coconut
- Chocolate bars like Almond Joy
- Macaroon type cookies
- Coconut cream pie
- Coconut yogurt
- Ice cream
- Mixed alcoholic drinks such as pina coladas
Coconut oil allergy
Because coconut allergy is rare, healthcare professionals are unsure how people with coconut allergies might react to products containing coconut oil.
Based on the limited information in the medical literature, coconut oil allergy appears to be even rarer than coconut allergy.
However, if you are allergic to coconut, you may also be allergic to coconut oil. This is a good reason to avoid products containing coconut oil.
Coconut allergy is very rare. If you are allergic to coconut, you may experience symptoms after eating foods containing coconut. These may include skin rashes and hives, stomach pain, wheezing or coughing, and swelling of the lips, tongue, and face.
Contact dermatitis after exposure to skin care products and shampoos containing coconut is more common. This may appear as an itchy, blistered rash.
You may have an allergic reaction to coconut if you also have a tree allergy. This is rare, however.
If you think you have a coconut allergy, you’ll need allergy testing to confirm a diagnosis. People with coconut allergies should avoid eating anything containing coconut.
Most product labels list coconut as a potential allergen. Look for any form of coconut, including things like coconut milk and coconut sugar.
A word from Verywell
There is no cure for coconut allergy. This means that if you have a coconut allergy, you will need to learn how to avoid coconut and coconut-based ingredients. This includes ingredients in food and non-food products. You will also need to learn how to prepare yourself in case of a reaction.
Carry an emergency first aid kit. This kit should include contact information and antihistamines. It should also include your epinephrine auto-injector or EpiPen, if prescribed by your doctor.
If you are allergic to another nut but want to keep coconut in your diet, talk to your allergist. Additional testing can guide you to the next reasonable step.
Frequently Asked Questions
How common is coconut allergy?
Coconut allergy is very rare. There are only a few reports about it in the medical literature. However, it is possible to have a coconut allergy. If you experience food allergy symptoms after eating coconut, see an allergist.
What type of allergen is coconut?
The United States Food and Drug Administration classifies the coconut as a tree nut. However, it is actually a fruit. Most people with coconut allergy are not allergic to tree nuts.