Chicken allergies are not common but they can happen. Learn how to spot the symptoms, what to avoid, and treatment options for a chicken allergy.
Chicken allergies to pure meat are rare, and often affect more teens and adults than children. You can be allergic to chicken meat, chicken feathers, eggs, or a combination of all three.
This article walks you through everything you need to know about chicken allergies including symptoms, getting a diagnosis, treatment, and what you should avoid to stay safe.
What is a chicken allergy?
A chicken allergy is when you have an allergic reaction to chicken protein found in chicken meat.
Children are often allergic to eggs (it is one of the most common food allergies) and can outgrow the allergy by the time they reach adulthood. This egg allergy is not a chicken allergy.
An allergy is when your autoimmune system goes into hyperdrive to keep you safe from perceived threats. In most cases, it does this against virus and bacteria. However, an allergy is a mistaken threat.
When you have an allergy, your body mistakes an allergy, in this case, chicken, for a threat. The body creates a large amount of the antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE) to attack the substance. This causes the symptoms of an allergy and they can range from mild to life-threatening.
Why some people have allergies and others do not is still unknown. Often times, many family members will share allergies, suggesting it runs in families, however, this isn't always true.
Symptoms for a chicken allergy can vary from person to person. Since chicken allergies are more rare than other allergies, it does not mean we have a definitive list of symptoms for a chicken allergy. Therefore, common allergic reactions as well as a severe reaction are also included in this list of symptoms.
Most children and adults will have a reaction immediately, after a few minutes, or a few hours after coming into contact with chicken. Remember some people are so allergic to chicken that even touching the meat or smelling the chicken can cause a reaction.
A list of possible reactions includes:
- Swelling, itching, or irritation of the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat
- Asthma attacks
- Eczema on the skin or other skin conditions
- Hives, itching rash of the skin
- Nasal congestion and runny nose
- Difficulty breathing
- Cramping and/or pain of the stomach or bowels
For some people, a severe allergic reaction known as an anaphylactic (ann-a-phil-act-tick) reaction may occur after eating, touching, or smelling their food allergy. If this happens, please call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. This is a life or death reaction.
Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Swelling or tightening of the throat
- Difficulty or trouble breathing
- Chest pain or tightness
- Trouble swallowing
- Dizziness or fainting
- Change of the normal coloring of the skin
- For light skin, check for signs of dark blue tints in the mucous membranes (inner lips, gums, around the eyes, and the nail beds)
- For medium skin, check for signs of a gray-green tint in the mucous membranes (inner lips, gums, around the eyes, and the nail beds)
- For dark skin, check for signs of a gray or white tint in the mucous membranes (inner lips, gums, around the eyes, and the nail beds)
If the person has an epinephrine auto-injector (also known as an EpiPen) , administer it right away if they are having an anaphylactic reaction, and then call 911.
What is Bird-Egg Syndrome
Bird-egg syndrome is a newer medical diagnosis for people who are allergic to a specific chemical found in the chicken meat and egg yolk. The alpha-livetin (chicken serum albumin, a protein in chicken) triggers the allergic response.
Symptoms for bird-egg syndrome include gastrointestinal symptoms and respiratory reactions including gas, bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, asthma attacks, and asthma with or without rhinoconjunctivitis.
It is normally first noticed when a person develops a sensitivity to bird feathers, either from live birds or feather pillows and blankets. Next, they develop an allergy to the chicken meat. Finally, they present with an egg allergy.
if you suspect you have bird-egg syndrome, it is important to talk with your doctor or health care provider to be properly diagnosed.
As of now, studies suggest that this affects more adult women than other demographics.
Alpha-gal syndrome, also known as the red meat allergy, is an allergy to red meat. This develops after being bitten by the lone star tick. The bite transmits a sugar molecule called the alpha-gal, causing a person to have a sudden allergy to meat.
In some people, this triggers an immune response similar to allergens after eating red meats such as beef, lamb, or pork.
People who are allergic to chicken are not the same as those who have alpha-gal syndrome and should be able to eat red meats.
The lone star tick is found in North America primarily, though it has also been found in Europe, Australia, and parts of Asia.
What to Avoid
When you have a food allergy it is vital to your health that you start to read ingredients and food labels for everything you eat. Many times, food companies will list the key ingredients that are in the top most common food allergies on the label. However, since chicken is a rare allergy, you need to read each food label carefully.
When living with a chicken allergy you need to make sure that you avoid the following:
- Chicken meat of all kinds, including breast, thighs, legs, wings, drumsticks, tenders, nuggets, and other processed chicken foods
- Chicken stock
- Chicken soup
- Chicken bouillon
- Oil for frying at restaurants
When eating at restaurants or dining out, you need to be careful of the oil that Is used for frying. Many times, kitchens will fry the chicken, fish, fries, and more in the same oil. If you have a chicken allergy, I recommend that you avoid fried food when eating in a restaurant.
Sometimes, people can have allergic symptoms to things that are closely related to their primary allergy. In this case, items like turkey and shrimp are so closely related to the chicken protein that if you have a chicken allergy you should avoid turkey and shrimp as well.
In addition to being allergic to chicken, there is an increased likelihood of you being allergic to the following:
- Shrimp / Shellfish
If you have a true chicken allergy or have bird-egg syndrome, owning a pet bird is probably not a good idea. If you have a cat, dog, or other pet, make sure to feed them chicken and turkey free foods so as not to put yourself at risk.
Finally, take care when visiting zoos, petting zoos, or farms with chickens and other birds.
Can you eat eggs?
For the majority of people, yes, you can still continue to enjoy eggs when allergic to chicken. The one exception is if you have bird-egg syndrome in which you would need to avoid all chicken meat and eggs.
If I have this will I have other allergies?
It is possible that you can have multiple allergies. Make sure to schedule an appointment with a doctor to do testing for more allergies.
Only a doctor can determine if you have a chicken allergy or chicken intolerance. Diagnosis usually involves one or more of the following tests:
Skin Test - This Is where a small amount of the suspected allergen is pricked into the top layer of the skin. How the person reacts gives us an idea of if the allergen is present or not.
Blood Test - Here, a blood sample will be taken and a medical lab will check to see if the blood has elevated levels of IgE for a specific allergen.
Elimination Diet - This is a classic method for determining an allergen. The food item in question is removed from the diet for a period of time (14-21 days) and then reintroduced. Notes are taken and depending on the reaction, can help doctors determine what allergies are present.
Note: Adding food back into the diet that is a suspected allergen can be dangerous if a history of anaphylactic reactions have been documented. It is important that you only reintroduce food in the presence of a doctor.
If you are on an elimination diet, or are wondering if you might have allergy symptoms, download my free elimination diet notebook! It's filled with pages to help you track your symptoms of a chicken allergy or other food intolerances.
The best option for treatment for chicken allergy begins with avoiding chicken in all its forms. That is the best way to treat a chicken allergy.
You doctor may also have you take an antihistamine medication or other over the counter antihistamines. However, these medicines, such as Claritin or Benadryl, should not be taken as a way to keep eating chicken as a part of your regular diet. There is no cure for food allergies and while you may have mild symptoms now, it is always possible for the body to have a severe reaction at any time.
Ask your doctor if you need to avoid just the chicken meat, chicken eggs, or feathers.
Take caution when visiting zoos, petting zoos, or farms where chickens and other birds live.
Use hypoallergenic pillows and bedding to make sure that they don’t contain any feathers.
Before taking any vaccines, make sure to check with your doctor or healthcare provider. Certain vaccines are made with eggs, including some varieties of the flu vaccine.
Some people develop allergies in childhood and outgrow them by the time they are adults. Common allergens that fit this are dairy allergies and egg allergies. Peanut allergies and tree nut allergies are typically not outgrown, but it can happen. That is why it is so important to have a good allergy specialist doctor to help you throughout the course of your life.
Animals with Chicken Allergy
In addition to people, pets can also become allergic to chicken! It is one of the most common allergies in dogs. My collie was severely allergic to chicken and so had to be on a beef and lamb diet. It is a lot more common than you may think!
You can tell if your dog is allergic to chicken if they have some of the following symptoms:
- Skin issues (flakey, itching, burning)
- Licking of paws
- Ear infection
- Skin infection
If your dog has any of these symptoms you should contact your vet and ask them about chicken allergies. Switching to a new dog food may be required to keep your pup safe and healthy!
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