Symptoms, diagnosis, what to avoid

Although you may be familiar with the eight major food allergens, such as peanuts and wheat, there are many other foods and ingredients that can cause allergic reactions in humans. One of them is black pepper. Having a black pepper allergy is not very common, although food allergies are on the rise. Even less common allergies should be taken seriously, as their effects can range from mild to life-threatening.

This article will discuss the symptoms and diagnosis of a black pepper allergy as well as what to avoid if you have one.

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Symptoms of a Black Pepper Allergy

Food allergies can present with a wide range of symptoms. They can affect your respiratory system, digestive tract, cardiovascular system, or skin. Because allergies, by nature, are an overactive immune system response, certain symptoms are more common. Some black pepper side effects are mostly annoying while others could be much more serious, so it’s important to know what to look for.

For example, symptoms of an allergic reaction to black pepper can include:

  • Itching near and around the mouth, eyes, and other parts of the body
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Redness or flushing of the skin
  • Runny nose, nasal congestion or sneezing
  • Urticaria
  • Hoarseness in the throat or difficulty swallowing
  • Tongue swelling
  • Dizziness or feeling faint

The most serious symptom of a food allergy is anaphylaxis. It can affect multiple parts of the body, hamper breathing and send the body into shock.

Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical treatment because it can be life threatening. Most symptoms appear minutes to hours after eating an allergenic food, but may be delayed in some people depending on the severity of the allergy.

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency

Anaphylaxis is a severe and life-threatening reaction to an allergen. If you or someone around you is suffering from anaphylaxis, call 911.

Diagnosing a Black Pepper Allergy

If you suspect you might be allergic to black pepper, it’s important to diagnose it correctly. Unfortunately, food allergies can be difficult to diagnose. Diagnosing a black pepper allergy can be especially tricky due to the prevalence of black pepper in foods. A black pepper allergy can also have similar symptoms to other food allergies because they trigger a similar immune response. It is therefore important to seek professional help rather than trying to figure it out yourself.

The first step to getting a proper diagnosis is talking with your health care provider about your symptoms. They can refer you to a food allergy specialist for testing and a care plan. It may also involve doing an oral food challenge test — or supervised ingestion of black pepper — to see what symptoms arise.

There are other things you can do at home to help narrow down what may be causing your allergy and determine if black pepper is to blame. A helpful option is to start keeping a food diary. This means keeping track of what foods and drinks you consume, when you experience symptoms, and what symptoms you have.

An elimination diet can also be helpful. Once you are able to identify potential triggers, such as black pepper, you can remove foods that contain it to see if it eases your symptoms. To do this, it’s important to read ingredient labels to avoid seasoning blends, prepared foods, and packaged items that contain black pepper.

Treatment

Once a black pepper allergy is officially diagnosed, the best treatment plan depends on the severity of your symptoms. While the most effective way to avoid black pepper allergy symptoms is to prevent exposure in the first place, black pepper is a difficult ingredient to avoid due to its widespread use in foods.

If the symptoms are mild and go away on their own, like a runny nose, you may not need to do anything. Using an over-the-counter medication, such as an antihistamine, may be enough to reduce symptoms like these when you eat black pepper.

Common over-the-counter antihistamines include:

  • Claritine (loratadine)
  • Allegra (fexofenadine)
  • Zyrtec (cetirizine)
  • Benadryl (diphenhydramine)

Treat Anaphylaxis

For severe symptoms, like those affecting your breathing, it’s a good idea to have an EpiPen handy. An EpiPen is a specific dose of epinephrine, a hormone injection used to treat anaphylaxis until you receive proper medical attention. If you have a severe black pepper allergy, always carry an EpiPen with you and know how to use it.

Even if you are using an EpiPen to treat anaphylaxis, you should always seek immediate medical attention.

What to avoid

If your black pepper allergy is causing mild or severe symptoms that you can control with over-the-counter medications as needed, you should still avoid black pepper completely.

The most obvious thing to avoid is black pepper itself, which is most often sold on its own as a seasoning for cooking.

However, black pepper is also added to a wide variety of prepared seasonings and spice blends. Therefore, if you buy spice blends, like taco seasoning or poultry seasoning, they likely contain black pepper. Instead, you can look for blends without black pepper or make your own versions that don’t use this ingredient.

Black pepper is commonly used in prepared and packaged foods containing seasonings. For example, some salad dressings, microwaveable cereals, condiments, croutons, crackers, chips, popcorn, nuts, breads, bagels and frozen foods.

The best way to find out which foods contain black pepper is to read the ingredient labels on the package.

Beware of all types of pepper

It’s possible that an allergy to black pepper puts you at a higher risk of being allergic to other types of pepper. Some examples include white pepper, green pepper, and long pepper. Although studies on black pepper allergies are lacking, research suggests that people with allergies to one type of nut should avoid all nuts for this same reason.

When to See a Health Care Provider

It’s always a good idea to talk to your health care provider when you’re concerned about your health. If you have new or unusual reactions to foods or ingredients, even if they are mild, your health care provider can help you assess the cause and offer appropriate management options. This is especially true if your symptoms are severe or worsening, as this could indicate a need for EpiPen access and preparation.

If you experience serious side effects after eating black pepper, such as difficulty breathing, dizziness, or symptoms of shock, call 911 for immediate medical attention.

Summary

Black pepper allergy is not very common, but it can have serious side effects in some people. If you’ve noticed any unusual symptoms after eating foods or ingredients that contain black pepper, it’s a good idea to talk to your health care provider.

If you’re diagnosed with a black pepper allergy, it’s important to know how to best manage it, especially if you have severe symptoms. Since black pepper is so prevalent in the food system, it can be a difficult ingredient to avoid all the time.

Start by knowing what foods contain it, read the ingredient labels on packaged goods, and be prepared with the proper medication or EpiPen if needed. Also, be sure to notify anyone preparing food for you ahead of time.

A word from Verywell

It can be frustrating to learn that you have a black pepper allergy, but know that if you do, you’re not alone. Anyone with a food allergy may have a different experience. For more support, the Food Allergy Research and Education the organization and the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology offer several resources that may be helpful when adjusting to living with a food allergy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you know if you are allergic to black pepper?

    If you experience digestive, skin, or respiratory symptoms after eating something that contains black pepper, you may be allergic to black pepper. To properly diagnose a black pepper allergy, talk to your healthcare provider. Keeping a food diary and practicing an elimination diet focused on black pepper can also be helpful in the process.

  • Can you get rid of a pepper allergy?

    Although it’s unlikely that you’ll completely get rid of a pepper allergy, it may be possible to reduce your body’s sensitization by working with a food allergy specialist (a process called immunotherapy). Otherwise, mild symptom management may be possible using over-the-counter medications that can be used when eating something that contains black pepper.

  • If you are allergic to black pepper, are you also allergic to other types of pepper?

    Having an allergy to one food, such as black pepper, does not automatically mean that you will be allergic to another. However, it may put you at a higher risk of having a similar allergy. For example, being allergic to black pepper can also mean that you are allergic to white or green pepper. The best way to know is to receive a medical evaluation and food allergy testing.

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