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What Are the Signs of an Allergic Reaction to Mussels?

By Meshell Powell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An allergic reaction to mussels and other shellfish can range from mild to potentially life threatening. Some of the most commonly reported symptoms include runny nose, coughing, and wheezing. Skin reactions may involve an itchy rash such as hives or eczema. Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain are also potential symptoms of an allergy to mussels. The most severe type of reaction is known as anaphylaxis and can lead to swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing, and loss of consciousness. As this type of allergic reaction can be fatal, emergency medical assistance should be sought any time that a seafood allergy is suspected.

In the mildest cases, an allergic reaction to mussels may produce symptoms similar to those of seasonal allergies or the common cold. Itchy, watery eyes and a runny nose are among the most commonly reported symptoms. Coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath may also occur shortly after consuming mussels. Those who have respiratory illnesses such as asthma or bronchitis may notice a worsening of symptoms following exposure to seafood.

Some people may develop an allergy to mussels that primarily affects the skin. Itching may be present with or without a rash, although a rash is a common response to allergens. A raised and sometimes painful rash known as hives often appears on several areas of the body. Dry, flaky patches of skin resembling eczema are frequently caused by an allergic reaction.

Gastrointestinal symptoms that develop shortly after eating may indicate an allergic reaction to mussels. Abdominal pain or cramping may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. If these symptoms persist or become severe, dehydration can develop. Blood in the stool or vomit may suggest that serious digestive tract damage has occurred, and a doctor should be consulted immediately.

Anaphylaxis is a relatively common type of allergic reaction to mussels and can prove to be fatal within a matter of minutes. The face often begins to swell, quickly extending to the tongue and throat. This severe swelling can cause breathing to become difficult or even impossible. Blood pressure levels may drop suddenly and can lead to dizziness, seizures, or loss of consciousness.

A mild allergic reaction to mussels can become severe in an instant, so prompt medical attention is always advised if an allergy is suspected. Whenever possible, an ambulance should be called to transport the patient to the nearest hospital. Supportive care such as resuscitation efforts and oxygen therapy can begin before the patient reaches the hospital, greatly increasing the chances of survival.

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Discussion Comments
By SarahGen — On Jun 26, 2013

I'm also very allergic to mussels. I can't go to restaurants where it is prepared because just being in the same room makes me sneeze, cough and itch.

By bear78 — On Jun 26, 2013

@fify-- It might be a very mild allergy or you might be allergic to some other ingredient in the dish. But if you're not sure what caused the reaction, it's a good idea to avoid mussels until you can get an allergy test.

My son is very allergic to mussels, as well as other seafood. He develops a rash and has trouble breathing if he eats even one piece. I always carry epinephrine with me just in case because I know he will go into anaphylaxis if he accidentally eats any mussels or shellfish.

By fify — On Jun 25, 2013

Is lip swelling a sign of a mussel allergy?

I ate mussels for the first time yesterday. Soon afterward, my lips became slightly swollen. It also felt a little itchy. But I didn't have swelling inside my throat or any of the other symptoms mentioned in the article. Is this an allergy?

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