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What is a Fish Allergy?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A fish allergy is a type of food allergy which occurs in people who are sensitive to some of the proteins found in fish. Common food fish such as tuna, salmon, snapper, tilapia, cod, and pollock have all been linked with allergic reactions. Fish and shellfish allergies are usually separate, which means that someone who can't eat shellfish can safely eat fish, and vice versa. The presence of an allergy to fish can be confirmed in a patient with the use of allergy testing.

Somewhat uniquely for food allergies, a fish allergy is more likely to have an onset in adulthood, and people are less likely to grow out of it over time. Because the proteins which commonly cause allergic reactions can be seen in many fish, people with these allergies are usually advised to avoid fish altogether. However, it is possible to use allergy testing to determine precisely which species cause the reaction, for people who would like the option of eating some safe fish species.

In addition to being allergic to some proteins found in fish, some people are allergic to fish parasites, experiencing an allergic reaction when they eat contaminated fish. This type of allergy is more rare, and it can be frustrating, because someone may experience allergies when eating fish one night, and not on the next, making it hard to pin down the source of the allergy without careful testing. People who are allergic to parasites may need to avoid certain fish species, and ensure that their fish is always very well cooked.

One of the most common signs of a fish allergy is oral allergy syndrome, in which the mouth and lips tingle after eating fish. People can also develop intestinal discomfort and skin irritations, and in some cases, the airways may swell and close, leading to anaphylactic shock. If any of these symptoms are experienced after eating fish, people should consult other people who ate the same meal to see if they had symptoms, which would suggest food poisoning. If no one else experienced the symptoms, it is time to see an allergist to discuss allergy testing and treatment options.

People with fish allergies should be careful about eating in restaurants which serve fish. Many people can react to aerosolized proteins, such as those which might waft off a grill, and restaurants which serve fried food can be prone to cross-contamination. Asian restaurants can also be dangerous for people with this condition, because many Asian sauces contain fish. Many Mediterranean dishes also contain fish in their ingredients, so when dining at restaurants which serve cuisine from the Mediterranean, people with a fish allergy should stress that they cannot be exposed to fish in any form. Restaurant staff are sometimes not sure about the ingredients found in a dish, and diners should be firm about asking the staff to check or to state that they are unsure about the safety of a dish.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon209117 — On Aug 25, 2011

My four year old daughter has been eating salmon and tuna for the longest time. Last week we gave her Tilapia and soon after she had the symptoms of an allergic reaction. We now have to go and get her tested.

Is it possible that someone can be allergic to only one type of fish and not others? I don't eat any kind of meat of poultry (never liked it) but I do eat a lot of fish. Now I'm worried about cross-contamination. I'll be living on veggie burgers and eggs until she gets tested.

By truman12 — On May 31, 2011

I also live with a fish allergy and I seem to have an extreme sensitivity. I haven't eaten fish in many years and in general have had no problems. Last year my wife and I were vacationing in Florida and we ate a seaside restaurant.

They had many non fish options so I wasn't worried about eating there, but about half way through the meal I started to have a negative reaction. They grilled a lot of the fish and it put something into the air that activated my allergies.

So even if I avoid eating fish I still have to be cautious about being around it. I wish that things were different, but in the grand scheme of things this is a pretty minor problem. How often are you really around grilled fish?

By Ivan83 — On May 28, 2011

I lived with a fish allergy for a while and I can confirm most of what this article describes. As a kid I had no problems eating fish, but in my late 20s I began having a negative reaction every time I ate it. It took a while to pinpoint the problem, but once I cut all fish out of my diet my problems went away completely.

That was about 25 years ago. I have done small tests to see if I am still allergic, eating little nibbles of tuna or salmon if it is around. So far I have not had any reaction, but I am still nervous to eat a large portion of fish. I am really hoping that one day I will be able to eat it without any cause for worry. Even though I haven't had it in so long it still looks and smells so good.

By jonrss — On May 26, 2011

Wow, I had no idea that fish allergies existed. I know that shell fish allergies are fairly common, but I had never thought about someone having a negative reaction to just plain fish. Honestly, this sounds terrible. Fish are one of my favorite foods and I can't imagine going without them. I think it would cut my dietary options in half.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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