Though it is relatively rare, some people are allergic to tomatoes and can experience a number of unpleasant symptoms when they eat them, particularly if they are raw. Symptoms usually arise initially in and around the mouth, with the lips, tongue, and throat first becoming itchy and then often swelling. Some people may also develop hives or an itchy rash on other areas of the skin. Gastrointestinal symptoms are also common, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. A more severe, systemic reaction can cause difficulty breathing, fainting, and even anaphylactic shock or death.
The first place that symptoms of a tomato allergy often show up is the area first exposed: the mouth. Often the allergic person will start feeling itchy on and around his or her lips, on the tongue, and even in the throat shortly after eating. This is frequently followed by swelling in the same areas. Swelling in the throat can be particularly problematic, as it may make breathing difficult.
A tomato allergy can also cause a reaction on skin elsewhere on the body. Some people develop itchy hives that can arise on some or all of their skin. They may also get a rash, which can be persistent if they do not take tomatoes out of their diet.
During an allergy attack, the body may try to rid itself of the allergen with a gastrointestinal reaction. The allergic person may feel nauseous and start to vomit to get the tomato out. He or she may also have diarrhea as part of the body's response.
In some cases, an allergy to tomatoes can be severe and lead to serious symptoms. It is also quite common for the allergic reaction to start out fairly mild and get progressively worse with each subsequent episode. Those who do have a severe tomato allergy may wheeze and have difficulty catching their breath. This can lead to a loss of blood pressure, which can make the person dizzy and faint. If he or she does not get medical attention quickly, the reaction may eventually result in anaphylactic shock, heart or respiratory failure, and even death.
People with tomato allergies may also want to use caution when ingesting plants from the same family. Two closely related foods that commonly cause symptoms in those with a tomato allergy are potatoes and eggplant. Tobacco is also closely related to the tomato, so smoking can also sometimes lead to an allergic reaction.
Other Foods To Avoid With a Tomato Allergy
Many foods can contain traces of tomatoes or other plants from the nightshade family. So if you have a severe tomato allergy, you should be cautious with the following products:
- BBQ sauce
- Tabasco sauce
- Chili powder
- Canned soup
- Curry powder
- Taco seasoning
Raw vs. Cooked Tomatoes
Some people with tomato allergies can safely eat tomatoes after cooking them. This is because high temperatures break down the proteins that cause allergic reactions.
So if you’ve recently discovered you have a tomato allergy, good news: there’s a chance you can still eat a lot of common foods such as pizza, pasta with tomato sauce, or chili.
However, cooking tomatoes does not always make them safe for people with tomato allergies. Depending on the severity of your allergy, high temperatures may not be enough to break down all of the allergy-triggering proteins.
If you have a severe tomato allergy, eating tomatoes in any state can pose a serious risk to your health. Always seek advice from a medical professional before eating tomatoes, cooked or raw, if you have a tomato allergy.
Can a Tomato Allergy Appear Later in Life?
While most people believe allergies begin during childhood, this is not always the case. New allergies can suddenly appear at any time in your life.
That’s why it’s important to know the signs of food allergies—even mild allergic reactions can have serious health risks.
Unfortunately, there have not been many studies on adult-onset food allergies. Hormone changes or genetics are a few possible reasons for this phenomenon, but the exact cause is still unclear.
How To Know You Have a Tomato Allergy
If you have experienced any allergy-related symptoms after eating tomatoes, there is a pretty good chance you have a tomato allergy. But if you’re unsure, you could take an allergy test to find out.
An allergy test involves a medical professional exposing you to the allergen in a controlled environment. If your body reacts, you will receive immediate treatment as well as confirmation of your tomato allergy.
Some professionals may also use a blood test to determine food allergies. Once they draw your blood, they can check for specific antibodies that can help determine the source of your allergy symptoms.
Tomato Allergy or Tomato Intolerance?
If you experience digestive issues after eating tomatoes, the cause may be an intolerance rather than an allergy. Many people use “allergy” and “intolerance” interchangeably, but there is a difference.
Tomato allergies affect the immune system and can often have life-threatening effects. If you have a tomato allergy, you will experience symptoms such as rashes or an itchy mouth. In severe cases, it can cause a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylactic shock.
An intolerance, on the other hand, simply means your body has trouble digesting a certain food. A tomato intolerance will cause some discomfort, but it is rarely life-threatening.
Symptoms of tomato intolerance include:
- Stomach cramps
If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms after eating tomatoes, consider eliminating them from your diet to see if your condition improves.
What To Do When Experiencing an Allergic Reaction to Tomatoes
If you are experiencing symptoms of an allergic reaction, you should act quickly. Allergic reactions can be life-threatening if you don’t receive the necessary treatment.
Here is a step-by-step guide for how to handle an allergic reaction to tomatoes:
- Stop eating the tomatoes and wash any tomato juice off of your skin.
- Determine how severe the allergic reaction is. If the symptoms are sudden or cause difficulty breathing, you should go to the emergency room immediately.
- If the allergic reaction is very mild, you can take an antihistamine drug to help reduce the symptoms of your reaction. You should monitor your symptoms even if your allergic reaction is mild. If your condition worsens at any point, contact a medical professional.
- In the future, avoid eating tomatoes and let others know about your tomato allergy to prevent any accidental exposures.
Depending on the severity of your tomato allergy, you may want to talk to your doctor and consider getting an epinephrine auto-injector. This is a life-saving medication that can reduce airway swelling during anaphylactic shock.