Being Allergic to Garlic Is More Common Than Most People Realize, Study Shows

  • According to data presented at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Annual (AAAAI) Meeting, garlic allergies are more common than most people realize.
  • Symptoms of a garlic allergy can include hives, a runny nose, skin rashes, and asthma.
  • Experts recommend individuals visit a healthcare provider for an allergy test if they believe they have an allergy.

While garlic isn’t a “big nine” allergen, garlic allergy is more common than most people realize.

According to data presented at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Annual (AAAAI) Meeting, allergies to this popular ingredient are fairly common.

“There is very little information about garlic allergy in the literature. So, this report will hopefully bring awareness to both patients and physicians about garlic allergy,” Thomas Casale, MD, professor of medicine and pediatrics and chief of clinical and translational research at the University of South Florida Division of Allergy and Immunology in Tampa, told Health in an email.

Woman chopping garlic

Getty Images / alvarez

What the Numbers Tell Us

Dr. Casale and his colleagues analyzed about 13,000 patients who were enrolled in the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) Patient registry from May 2017 to October 2021.

They identified garlic (Allium sativum) allergy in 132 participants. In addition, 34 of the 132 patients reported having an allergy to other Allium species, such as onion, shallot, leek, scallion, and chives. Nearly 67% of the participants were diagnosed by an allergist—a skin prick method was the most commonly used diagnostic test.

Researchers also found more than half (56%) of the participants with a garlic allergy went to the emergency room (ER) for a garlic-induced allergic reaction, while 19% were hospitalized and 6% were admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU).

“Some reactions were very severe, requiring hospitalization and ICU admission,” Dr. Casale explained. “This is in stark count contrast to individuals that just had mild symptoms with a few hives.”

In general, patients with a garlic allergy were diagnosed at a later age, had a higher rate of family history of food allergies, and were more likely to have comorbid allergic rhinitis (runny nose), asthma, or atopic dermatitis (skin rashes) compared to other patients in the FARE registry with only one food allergy that was not garlic. 

Dr. Casale noted how he hopes these findings can educate patients and medical providers about garlic allergies and help them take proper action.

What a Garlic Allergy Looks Like

Similar to other food allergies, garlic allergies are caused by a response by the immune system, Ashley Okotie-Eboh, MD, a family medicine physician at Memorial Hermann Medical Group, told Health in an email. 

If you have an allergy to a certain product or food, your immune system will overreact to its presence in your body. Your immune system will then respond by producing antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE), which travel to cells that release chemicals, like histamine, causing an allergic reaction.

“Your body detects the garlic and labels it as a foreign material, creating an antibody that will recognize the garlic and trigger a cascade of an allergic reaction,” Dr. Okotie-Eboh explained. 

The symptoms of a garlic allergy can be similar to any other food allergy, Dr. Okotie-Eboh continued. However, the most common symptoms after ingestion of garlic, contact with garlic, or exposure to garlic dust are asthma, hives (urticaria), runny nose (rhinitis), or skin rashes (contact dermatitis). Symptoms can also vary from person to person and may show up at different times after you are exposed to it.

Symptoms of a Garlic Allergy

Individuals who are allergic to garlic may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Hives, itching, or redness of the skin
  • Dermatitis or skin rashes
  • Swelling around the face, lips, throat, or mouth
  • Tingling or itching sensation of the mouth
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose (rhinitis)
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting 

Dr. Okotie-Eboh also noted that consumption of excessive amounts of raw garlic, especially on an empty stomach, can cause gastrointestinal upset, flatulence (gas), and changes in the intestinal flora. “There have also been reports of allergic dermatitis, burns, and blisters from topical application of raw garlic,” she added.

Diagnosing a Garlic Allergy 

If you notice consistent symptoms like skin rashes, hives, runny nose, or breathing problems after eating certain foods, it is possible that you may have a food allergy. Keeping a food diary and tracking which foods follow any symptoms can help determine specific products you may be allergic to.

You can also reach out to a health care provider for an allergy test, such as a skin prick test or blood test.

Dr. Okotie-Eboh noted that while most allergies are diagnosed in childhood with the introduction of many new foods, it is still possible to develop food sensitivities or allergies later on in adulthood. It’s important to continue paying attention to the signals your body is sending you so that if something changes, like a food sensitivity, you are able to deal with it proactively.

How Do I Treat a Garlic Allergy?

Dr. Okotie-Eboh explained that if you receive a garlic allergy diagnosis, how you manage it will depend on the severity of the reaction. For example, if a person has had a rare anaphylactic reaction to garlic, a physician may likely prescribe them an Epipen to have on hand in case they accidentally ingest or get exposed to garlic.

If an individual’s reaction is less severe, management for the allergy may include avoiding garlic, prioritizing reading food labels, and notifying food staff of your allergy when you dine out or order food for delivery.

Other people with garlic allergies who experience mild allergic symptoms, such as hives or runny nose, may only need over-the-counter allergy medications to relieve symptoms, Dr. Okotie-Eboh added.

Patients who are still unsure of how severe their allergy is or have other questions about how to manage their allergy should schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider to ensure they receive all the information they need about treating their allergy and avoiding illness.

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  1. Hamadi W, Casale T. Garlic allergy [abstract 540]. Abstract of paper presented at: Annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology; February 26, 2023; San Antonio, Texas.

  2. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Allergic reactions.

  3. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Food allergy.

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