Symptoms, Diagnosis, What to Avoid

While you may be aware of the top eight food allergens, like peanuts and wheat, there are numerous other foods and ingredients that can cause allergic reactions in people. One of these is black pepper. Having a black pepper allergy is not very common, though food allergies are on the rise. Even less common allergies should be taken seriously, as their effects can range from mild to life-threatening.

This article will discuss the symptoms and diagnosis of having a black pepper allergy as well as what to avoid if you have one.

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Symptoms of a Black Pepper Allergy

Food allergies can present with a wide range of symptoms. They might affect your respiratory system, digestive tract, cardiovascular system, or skin. Because allergies, by nature, are an overactive response of the immune system, certain symptoms are more common. Some black pepper side effects are mostly annoying while others could be much more serious, so it’s important to be aware of what to look for.

For instance, symptoms of an allergic reaction to black pepper might include:

  • Itchiness near and around the mouth, eyes, and other parts of the body
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea
  • Redness or flushing of the skin
  • Runny nose, nasal congestion, or sneezing
  • Hives
  • Hoarse throat or trouble swallowing
  • Swelling of the tongue
  • Dizziness or feeling faint

The most serious symptom of a food allergy is anaphylaxis. This can affect multiple parts of the body, impair breathing, and send the body into shock.

Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical treatment as it can be life-threatening. Most symptoms will begin within a few minutes to several hours of eating an allergenic food but may be delayed for some people depending on the severity of the allergy.

Anaphylaxis Is a Medical Emergency

Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction to an allergen. If you or someone around you is experiencing anaphylaxis, call 911.

Diagnosing Black Pepper Allergy

If you suspect that you might be allergic to black pepper, it’s important to have it properly diagnosed. Unfortunately, food allergies can be challenging to diagnose. Diagnosing a black pepper allergy can be especially tricky because of the prevalence of black pepper in foods. A black pepper allergy can also have similar symptoms to other food since they trigger a similar immune response. This makes it important to seek professional help rather than try to figure it out yourself.

The first step to getting a proper diagnosis is to speak with your healthcare provider about your symptoms. They may refer you to a food allergy specialist for testing and a plan of care. This may also involve doing an oral food challenge test—or supervised ingestion of black pepper—to see what symptoms occur.

You can do other things at home to help narrow down what may be causing your allergy and determine if black pepper is to blame. One helpful option is to start keeping a food diary. This means keeping track of what foods and drinks you’re consuming, when you experience symptoms, and what symptoms you’re having.

An elimination diet may also be helpful. Once you’re able to identify potential triggers, like black pepper, you can remove foods that contain it to see if it helps your symptoms. To do this successfully, it’s important to read ingredient labels to avoid seasoning mixes, prepared foods, and packaged items that contain black pepper.

Treatment

Once a black pepper allergy is formally diagnosed, the best treatment plan depends on the severity of your symptoms. While the most effective way to avoid black pepper allergy symptoms is to prevent exposure in the first place, black pepper is a difficult ingredient to avoid altogether because of its widespread use in foods.

If the symptoms are mild and go away on their own, like a runny nose, you may not need to do anything about it. Using an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, like an antihistamine, may be enough to help curb symptoms like these when you eat black pepper.

Common over-the-counter antihistamines include:

  • Claritin (loratadine)
  • Allegra (fexofenadine)
  • Zyrtec (cetirizine)
  • Benadryl (diphenhydramine)

Treating Anaphylaxis

For serious symptoms, like those that affect your breathing, it’s a good idea to have an EpiPen on hand. An EpiPen is a specific dose of epinephrine, a hormone injection used to treat anaphylaxis until you get proper medical attention. If you have a severe black pepper allergy, carry an EpiPen with you at all times and know how to use it.

Even if you use an EpiPen to treat anaphylaxis, you still need to seek immediate medical attention.

What to Avoid

If your black pepper allergy causes mild or severe symptoms that you can control with OTC medications as needed, you should still avoid black pepper altogether.

The most obvious thing to avoid is black pepper itself, which is most commonly sold on its own as a seasoning for cooking.

However, black pepper is also added to a wide variety of prepared seasoning and spice mixes. Therefore, if you purchase spice mixes, like taco seasoning or poultry seasoning, they likely contain black pepper. Instead, you can look for mixes free from black pepper or prepare your versions that don’t use this ingredient.

Black pepper is commonly used in prepared and packaged foods that contain seasonings. For instance, certain salad dressings, microwaveable grains, condiments, croutons, crackers, chips, popcorn, nuts, bread, bagels, and frozen foods.

The best way to know what foods contain black pepper is to read the ingredient labels on the packaging.

Beware of All Pepper Types

It’s possible that having an allergy to black pepper may put you at a higher risk of being allergic to other types of pepper. Some examples include white pepper, green pepper, and long pepper. While studies on black pepper allergies are lacking, research suggests that people who are allergic to one type of tree nut should avoid all tree nuts for this same reason.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

It’s always a good idea to speak to your healthcare provider when you’re concerned about your health. If you’re having new or unusual reactions to foods or ingredients, even if they’re mild, your healthcare provider can help evaluate the cause and provide appropriate management options. This is especially true if your symptoms are severe or worsening, as it could indicate a need for EpiPen access and preparedness.

If you experience severe side effects after eating black pepper, like trouble breathing, dizziness, or symptoms of shock, call 911 for immediate medical attention.

Summary

Having a black pepper allergy isn’t very common, but it can have serious side effects for some people. If you’ve noticed unusual symptoms after eating foods or ingredients that contain black pepper, it’s a good idea to speak to your healthcare provider.

If you’re diagnosed with a black pepper allergy, it’s important to know how to best manage it, especially if you have serious symptoms. Since black pepper is so widespread in the food system, this can be a difficult ingredient to avoid all the time.

Start by being aware of which foods contain it, reading ingredient labels on packaged products, and being prepared with appropriate medication or EpiPen if needed. Be sure to let anyone preparing food for you know ahead of time as well.

A Word From Verywell

It can be frustrating to learn that you have a black pepper allergy but know that if you have one, you’re not alone. Everyone who has a food allergy can have a different experience. For more support, the Food Allergy Research & Education organization and the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology offer several resources that can be helpful when adjusting to life with a food allergy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you know if you are allergic to black pepper?

    If you experience digestive, skin, or respiratory symptoms after eating something that contains black pepper, you may have a black pepper allergy. To properly diagnose a black pepper allergy, speak to your healthcare provider. Keeping a food diary and practicing an elimination diet focused around black pepper can also be helpful in the process.

  • Can you get rid of a pepper allergy?

    While it’s unlikely to get rid of a pepper allergy altogether, it may be possible to reduce your body’s sensitization to it by working with a food allergy specialist (a process called immunotherapy). Otherwise, mild symptom management may be possible using over-the-counter medications that can be used when you eat something that contains black pepper.

  • If you have a black pepper allergy, are you also allergic to other types of pepper?

    Having an allergy to one food, like black pepper, doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have an allergy to another one. However, it can put you at a higher risk of having a similar allergy. For instance, being allergic to black pepper may also mean you’re allergic to white or green pepper. The best way to know is to receive a medical evaluation and food allergy testing.

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