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What Is a Citric Acid Allergy?

By Meshell Powell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Citric acid is a naturally-occurring acid that is present in all citrus fruits and is synthetically produced from mold and corn for use as a food additive. It is also used as a preservative in various other items, including cosmetics and lotions. An allergy to it can be mild enough to only cause a mild skin reaction or be severe enough to cause potentially life-threatening complications. A simple blood test is usually all that is necessary to determine the presence of a citric acid allergy.

Skin reactions are among the most common symptoms of a citric acid allergy. These symptoms are usually mild and typically involve a rash that may or may not itch. This rash is usually found around the mouth if the citric acid was swallowed or on the area of skin that has come into contact with a product containing this ingredient. In some cases, hives may develop or swelling may be noticed, especially in the facial area of the body. Any potential allergy symptoms should be reported to a medical professional right away.

Breathing difficulties may be caused by an allergy to citric acid. In mild cases, symptoms may include coughing, sneezing, or nasal congestion. Some people may also develop a runny nose or watery eyes. An over-the-counter antihistamine may help to combat these reactions. Severe wheezing or difficulty breathing could indicate a potentially life-threatening medical emergency and should be reported to a medical professional immediately.

Gastrointestinal disturbances may indicate the presence of a citric acid allergy in some cases. Nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea are some of the most common symptoms. Gas, bloating, or intestinal bleeding are also potential gastrointestinal responses to this type of allergy. In babies with an allergy to citric acid, these symptoms may involve excessive drooling or spitting up.

Physical and emotional changes may sometimes develop in those who have this type of allergy. Muscle pain and severe fatigue are possible symptoms that are often overlooked. Mood changes, such as irritability, a feeling of anxiety, or unexplained bouts of crying, are sometimes experienced as well. For milder symptoms, eliminating citric acid from the diet may be all that is needed. More severe symptoms require immediate medical attention in order to avoid potentially fatal complications.

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Discussion Comments

By anon991356 — On Jun 14, 2015

I started with a small itch at the edge of my mouth when I ate oranges, lemon, lime or any citrus juice and then one day I had fresh pineapple and my mouth and throat blistered and started swelling shut. Since then I can tell by headache, body aches, and blistered mouth/lips if I eat or drink anything with citrus or citric acid from fruit. Be very careful, the tingle around the mouth was my first warning.

By anon356040 — On Nov 21, 2013

In the past year, I have thrown up whatever I've eaten either before or after drinking orange juice, lemonade, or fruit punch. Seven times, and it's all made by the same company too. Could I be allergic just by drinking citric acid?

By anon331796 — On Apr 25, 2013

If I use anything on my skin or face with citrus in it, I will break out in hives real bad everywhere. But if I eat something citrus, I don't have an allergic reaction. Why is this?

By anon265218 — On May 01, 2012

Pepsi Throwback has no citric acid. I've hit that age where my body is intolerant.

I get hives and gut reaction from citric acid. Vitamins are bad. Tomatoes, pop, anything preserved with it.

I also have two neighbors with issues. I hear most is produced in China.

By ddljohn — On Aug 11, 2011

@fify-- I don't think the citric acid in fruit juices, sodas and canned goods are the same as the citric acid in citrus fruits. I'm pretty sure that the former is made from corn and is synthetic, so it is not naturally derived but made in the lab.

Do you have an allergic reaction to those juices and sodas as well or just the fruits?

You might want to make note of which exact fruits cause the reaction, for how long and where.

The other alternative to citric acid is ascorbic acid which is just vitamin C and many brands use that as a preservative as well. You could look for sodas and juices that use this instead.

By turquoise — On Aug 10, 2011

@fify-- I'm glad you have an appointment with the doctor because unless you get some tests done and probably an elimination test done as well, you won't really know if you have a citric acid allergy or intolerance.

There is a difference between the two, they are not the same but the symptoms can be similar. You might be intolerant to citric acid, meaning that your body cannot digest it properly which also causes irritation, sensitivity, and swelling of lips and mouth. You could also be allergic to citric acid and that also has very similar symptoms.

The doctor will help figure this out by doing an allergy test and if that comes out negative, doing an elimination test.

By fify — On Aug 09, 2011

I've recently developed a mild swelling of my lips and mouth after I eat citrus fruits, especially oranges and lemon juice.

I have never had this reaction before and I'm hoping that it's not an allergic reaction because I love citrus fruits. I've also been checking ingredients lists constantly since this has started happening and I'm shocked to know that practically all of the sodas and fruit juices I have at home contain citric acid.

I have a doctor's appointment scheduled in a few days and it'll be confirmed whether I have an allergy to citric acid or not.

I'm wondering though, how do people in my situation manage this allergy?

Have you given up soda, citrus fruits and fruit juices all together? Are there any alternatives to these drinks and juices without the citric acid?

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