Symptoms, risk factors, etc.

Allergies result when the immune system mistakes a specific substance, known as an allergen, as dangerous and begins to attack it. For people with a chicken allergy, this process occurs when they eat or come into contact with chicken.

This type of allergy is extremely rare, affecting about 0.6% to 5% of people. Typically, young adults and teenagers are most affected by chicken allergies.

This article discusses the symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options for people with this very rare food allergy.

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Symptoms

Typical symptoms that occur when someone is allergic to chicken include:

  • Swelling of the mouth, lips, tongue, face and throat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Hives (urticaria)

Complications

Although rare, some serious symptoms can occur that affect the heart. These symptoms can include:

These are symptoms of anaphylaxis, which is a serious and life-threatening allergic reaction. Fortunately, this complication is rare.

What are the symptoms of anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis comes on suddenly and has symptoms such as:

  • Stun
  • Feeling of fainting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • An increased heart rate
  • Skin that becomes clammy
  • Confusion or anxiety
  • Loss of consciousness

Risk factors

Factors most associated with an increased risk of developing a food allergy include:

  • Hygiene
  • Lack of exposure at an early age
  • The composition of intestinal bacteria (microorganisms that naturally live in the intestines)
  • A person’s overall diet
  • Obesity
  • Vitamin D levels
  • have eczema

With specific reference to a chicken allergy, a person allergic to another type of poultry may also be at an increased risk of developing a chicken allergy.

Other poultry foods include:

  • Turkey
  • goose
  • Duck
  • Pheasant
  • Partridge

In some cases, people with allergies to other types of meat, including fish and pork, may also be at increased risk.

What is Bird’s Egg Syndrome?

Bird’s egg syndrome describes the onset of sensitivity to bird allergens later in life. These allergens are mainly feathers or excrement. The allergen most likely to be responsible for bird’s egg syndrome is known as serum albuminswhich are proteins found in all tissues of the bird, including its eggs.

People with bird’s egg syndrome are at an increased risk of developing a chicken allergy. However, they do not always develop one.

Diagnostic

The process of diagnosing a chicken allergy is similar to diagnosing other food allergies. The process begins after symptoms appear.

When a person eats chicken and notices that they experience the same symptoms every time, they should see an allergist who specializes in allergies and allergy testing.

Tests used to diagnose a chicken allergy include:

  • Blood test: An allergy blood test checks for chicken-specific antibodies that are created to fight the allergen when the immune system reacts to its presence.
  • Skin test: A skin test involves the use of a small tool that looks like a comb. The allergen in question will then be placed on the combed or pricked area to see if there is a skin reaction.
  • Elimination Diet: In some cases, a health care provider will ask you to abstain from chicken for a while and then reintroduce it to your diet to see if symptoms return.

What is the Oral Challenge?

In rarer cases, a healthcare provider may perform the oral challenge, which is a type of test that involves having a person eat chicken to see if they have an allergic reaction. Since it can trigger severe symptoms, this test must be performed in the presence of the allergist in a controlled environment.

Treatment

The best way to treat a chicken allergy is to avoid eating chicken. This will keep the allergen out of your system so you don’t suffer an allergic reaction.

Unfortunately, this process is easier said than done, as some foods may contain chicken ingredients, such as soups, that you don’t know unless you read the packaging.

For severe cases of chicken allergy, injectable epinephrine can be used. Epinephrine helps treat life-threatening allergic reactions. People with this type of severe chicken allergy will need to carry an EpiPpen (which contains epinephrine) with them everywhere in case they come into contact with chicken by accident.

Depending on the severity of your allergy, you may be able to take antihistamines to combat the allergic reaction if you accidentally eat chicken and have a mild reaction.

What to avoid

If you are allergic to chicken, you should avoid any product containing chicken.

Common foods that contain chicken ingredients include:

  • Chicken broths and soups
  • Certain pet foods that contain chicken-based ingredients that could irritate your skin if touched
  • Any frozen meat product that may contain chicken

Food alternatives

There are many other types of meat or food items that a person with a chicken allergy can substitute to avoid an allergic reaction. Here are some examples of food alternatives:

  • Tofu (food made from curdled soy milk)
  • Jackfruit (an ancient variety of fruit)
  • Tempeh (vegetable soy product)
  • Seitan (wheat-based product that acquires the appearance and texture of meat when cooked)
  • Cauliflower (a cruciferous vegetable)
  • Plant-based chicken products (be sure to check labels to make sure there are no allergenic ingredients)

Aside from plant-based chicken, these products generally have little to no flavor and therefore can be used as a substitute for chicken using the same spices or sauces as if you were making a chicken meal.

When to See a Health Care Provider

If you experience allergy symptoms every time you eat chicken, it may be time to see your health care provider.

A provider will connect you with an allergist or suggest you try an elimination diet to determine if chicken is the cause of your symptoms.

When it’s an emergency

If you have a severe allergic reaction, call 911 immediately. Don’t wait to see your health care provider or try taking histamines and wait. Severe allergic reactions can be life-threatening (anaphylaxis) and require immediate medical attention.

Summary

A chicken allergy is a rare type of allergy that tends to affect young adults and teenagers. It happens when the body’s immune system mistakes the chicken for a dangerous substance and reacts to it, causing symptoms. Although a chicken allergy is usually mild, it can be serious in some cases.

Risk factors associated with chicken allergy include other food allergies, eczema, or the development of bird’s egg syndrome later in life. If you think you have a chicken or poultry allergy, you can speak with your health care provider to get the proper tests to confirm it and develop a treatment plan.

A word from Verywell

Chicken is considered a staple ingredient in many cuisines, so it can be difficult for people with chicken allergies to avoid it. Luckily, there are substitutes that work equally well in many chicken dishes and don’t cause side effects or symptoms. Adjusting to life without chicken can be tough, but it’s worth it if it means relieving yourself of unwanted allergy symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common are chicken allergies?

    A chicken allergy is incredibly rare. It is most commonly found in young adults and adolescents, and the incidence rate is between 0.6% and 5%. However, because it is so poorly documented, the true prevalence rate is unknown.

  • Can you be allergic to chicken but not to eggs?

    Although being allergic to chicken can make a person also allergic to eggs, this is not always the case. Some cases of chicken allergy do not go hand in hand with an egg allergy. When a person is allergic to both, it is often referred to as bird’s egg syndrome.

  • How serious is a chicken allergy?

    Chicken allergies can be serious. That said, the majority of cases are mild to moderate. This means that the majority of people with chicken allergies are not at risk of serious allergic complications if they come into contact with the allergen.

  • What is the difference between a chicken allergy and a chicken intolerance?

    Although food intolerance and allergies have symptoms, the two are not the same. An intolerance is more closely associated with gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea, while an allergy is more associated with general symptoms, such as swelling of the mouth, face or lips, or hives. Both affect people negatively, but the effects are different.

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