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What is Sesame Allergy? How does it Manifest Itself and Why?

As of January 1, 2023, and as part of the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research Act (FASTER Act) of the United States, sesame was included in the list of major food allergens of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

This measure seeks to avoid health complications in those who are allergic to the ingredient. These regulations oblige food manufacturers to classify sesame and any product that may contain sesame-derived proteins as “allergenic”.

What is sesame allergy and how does it manifest itself?

Sesame (Sesamum indicum) is a seed that comes from the Middle East and Africa. It has a mild flavor and is often added to recipes for breads, crackers and soups, among others. It’s also the basis of tahini and a sweet called halva.

Currently, this ingredient is distributed in several countries in America and Europe. And although certain nutritional qualities are attributed to it, such as an abundant content of proteins and lipids, it has also been recognized as one of the main triggers of food allergies.

Sesame allergy groups a series of clinical manifestations that occur when the immune system reacts disproportionately to the proteins contained in these seeds.

When ingesting such food, the antibodies detect these substances as “harmful agents”, which will result in the allergic reaction. Symptoms may vary from person to person, but in general, they include the following:

  • Hypotension.
  • Coughing.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Hives.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Fainting.
  • Swelling.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Swelling and itching of the eyes.
  • Sensation of tightness in the throat.

It should be mentioned that allergy can be mild or severe. Symptoms occur after ingestion of sesame seeds, sesame oil or any derived food. There is a greater chance of having a severe complication if a mild reaction has already occurred in the past.

Of greater concern is that cases of this type of allergy are on the rise. A study shared through JAMA Network Open reported that about 1.1 million people in the United States suffer from this type of food allergy.

Meanwhile, research through Pediatric Allergy and Immunology found that sesame allergy affects 17% of food-allergic children. Thus, it is also one of the top 10 food allergies in children.

Sesame joins the list of major food allergens

Sesame has become the ninth top food allergen on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) list. This list already included others such as eggs, wheat, peanuts, milk, soy, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.

For several years, the FDA has been analyzing reports and research on sesame allergy. After corroborating how its prevalence and associated health complications have increased, it determined that it should be listed as a major food allergen.

This means that, as of this year, any food containing sesame or any derivative of this ingredient must meet the specific regulatory requirements for food allergens, such as those associated with its labeling and manufacturing process.

This measure represents an important step forward for patients suffering from this type of allergy. Before the regulation, it was not always easy to identify the ingredient on product labels. Often, sesame could be listed as “tahini”, “spices” or “natural flavors”.

With the new law, consumers will now be able to see more clearly whether or not the product contains the seed. It may be specified in the following ways:

  • “Contains sesame”
  • “May contain sesame”
  • “Produced on equipment that is used to process sesame”

Tips to avoid sesame allergy

In cases of symptoms of sesame allergy, you need to consult a doctor for an accurate diagnosis. If the reaction is confirmed, the next step is to eliminate from the diet any food product that may contain the ingredient, even in traces.

To do this, take a few minutes to consult the food label. It is necessary to read carefully what is its list of ingredients. The new FDA requirement doesn’t apply to products manufactured and distributed before January 1, 2023.

Therefore, if in doubt, it’s best to consult the manufacturer. Caution is also recommended when visiting oriental or vegan restaurants, as they regularly use these seeds in their dishes.

Consulting a doctor is key

In cases where you suspect sesame allergy, medical consultation is essential. You should be aware that this condition could lead to a serious reaction, such as anaphylaxis, which causes breathing difficulties and even fainting. Without timely treatment, it can be life-threatening.

Therefore, once a sesame allergy -or any other food allergy– has been identified, the specialist may suggest epinephrine auto-injectables. These are obtained only on prescription and the doctor will explain the correct usage instructions strictly in cases of emergency.

In any case, prevention is always the best way. For this reason, it’s advisable to strictly follow all the recommendations given by the physician or allergist during the consultation.

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