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A Parent's Guide to Shrimp Allergy: Shellfish Allergy Breakdown For Families

Learn what shrimp allergy is, how shrimp allergy is connected with other allergies to shellfish, what shrimp allergy symptoms look like, and how shrimp allergy is much more common in adults than babies and young children.


Shrimp allergy is a common food allergy, but it's much more common in adults than in babies and young children. Furthermore, shrimp allergy only affects ~1% of children compared to the most common childhood food allergies (peanut, egg and milk allergies) which affect ~7% of children.

Around 60% of people with allergies to shellfish (the allergy group that includes shrimp allergy) have their first allergic reaction as adults. This means shrimp allergies tend to develop later in life. 

Here's what parents need to know about shrimp allergy, and other shellfish allergies.

What Is Shrimp Allergy?

Normally, our immune systems defend and protect us from harmful invaders like certain viruses and bacteria. But when someone has a shrimp allergy, their immune system mistakenly treats the protein in shrimp as a harmful invader.

Their immune system makes special allergy antibodies called IgE antibodies to shrimp proteins to help fight them off. These antibodies trigger symptoms of an allergic reaction whenever the person consumes shrimp.

Most shrimp allergies involve a protein called tropomyosin. According to one report, over 60 % of people with shellfish allergies react to tropomyosin. 

Shrimp Allergy: A Type Of Shellfish Allergy 

Shrimp allergy is a type of shellfish allergy. When grouped together, shellfish allergies are one of the top 8 most common food allergies. 

Allergies to shellfish include allergies to:

Crustaceans

  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Lobster
  • Crayfish
  • Prawns 

Mollusks

  • Clams
  • Mussels
  • Scallops
  • Oysters
  • Squid

The crustacean group of shellfish (shrimp, crab, lobster, crayfish, prawns) tends to cause the most reactions and the most severe reactions.

Shellfish allergies tend to be connected. 

  • This means that someone with a shrimp allergy could also have an allergic reaction to another shellfish, like crab or lobster.
  • So, if someone is allergic to shrimp, their allergist will probably tell them to avoid other kinds of shellfish. 

Some people with shellfish allergies are allergic to both groups of shellfish. But others are only allergic to one group.

  • So, someone with a shrimp allergy might also react to crab, but not to clams.
  • Food allergy testing (skin prick testing or an oral food challenge) can help someone find out the specific shellfish allergies they have.

Shellfish allergy and finned fish allergy aren't related. 

  • So, someone with a shrimp allergy likely won't have to avoid finned fish, like cod and salmon.

People with shellfish allergies should avoid eating at seafood restaurants, because there's a high risk that other foods come in contact with shellfish. This is known as cross-contamination.

  • And since even the steam from cooking shellfish can trigger a shellfish allergy, people with these allergies should also avoid any space where shellfish is being cooked. 

Shrimp Allergy Symptoms

Symptoms of a shrimp allergy usually develop seconds to minutes after eating shrimp, and almost always within 2 hours.

Symptoms of a shrimp allergy can include:

  • Hives (red raised bumps)
  • Itching
  • Skin redness
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling of the lips, face, eyes, throat, or tongue
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Wheezing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting

When the symptoms of a shrimp allergic reaction are severe, and involve more than one organ system, the reaction is classified as anaphylaxis. And anaphylaxis can be life-threatening. 

Shrimp Allergy: More Common in Adults

Even though shellfish allergies tend to be lifelong, shrimp allergy is mostly an adult allergy. Shrimp allergies (and other shellfish allergies) are much more common in adults than in babies and young children. Around 60% of people with allergies to shellfish have their first allergic reaction as adults. Also, only around ~1-1.5% of children have a shellfish allergy.


And according to one study reported by the AAAAI, a severe reaction from shrimp allergies is much rarer in children than in adults. The study reported that "anaphylaxis caused by shrimp allergy in adults is 44 percent," but "in children is only 7.8 percent." Children with shrimp allergies usually have mild to moderate allergic reactions, not severe ones.

So, shrimp allergies usually develop later in life, and reactions tend to be more severe in adulthood.

 

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All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If your infant has severe eczema, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.

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