My mom was at a lakeside restaurant enjoying fish and chips when her mouth began tingling. The next day at a family gathering, we had grilled fish. Her lips swelled, then her throat. She had asthma and almost immediately went into respiratory distress. An ambulance was called.
My mom received immediate, life-saving care from the first responders and was fine. Later, an allergist told her she had a severe fish allergy and should stay away from shellfish as well.
Not all allergies begin when we are children. Even a life-threatening allergy can present much later in life as it did with my mom. Knowing the symptoms, even if you don’t think they apply to you, could save a life.
What does an allergic response look like?
When there is a fish or shellfish allergy, the immune system overreacts to their proteins as though they are harmful invaders. The reaction causes chemicals like histamine to be released into the body. This is the allergic reaction. Common symptoms include:
- - Wheezing
- - Trouble breathing
- - Coughing
- - Hoarseness and throat tightening
- - Stomach discomfort and vomiting
- - Diarrhea
- - Itchy, watery, red or swollen eyes
- - Hives or red spots on the skin
- - A drop in blood pressure, causing lightheadedness or unconsciousness
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic response that begins with some of the above symptoms but quickly accelerates into a life-threatening condition. Immediate medical attention is necessary.
Seafood vs. shellfish allergy
Seafood includes fish and shellfish. However, fish and shellfish are biologically different. One type of allergy does not include the other. If you are allergic to fish, you may be fine to eat shrimp. If you are allergic to lobster, you may be able to enjoy tuna.
Shellfish includes two categories of seafood: crustaceans and mollusks. Crustaceans are lobsters, shrimp and crab. Mollusks include clams, mussels, oysters, scallops, octopus and squid. Some shellfish allergies include both groups, while others do not. Your allergist will let you know.