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What’s a Coffee Allergy? Symptoms & Facts

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Coffee allergies are extremely rare, and, luckily, there are very few cases of allergic reactions to drinking coffee. Someone with a coffee allergy will exhibit an allergic response to the coffee bean itself, not the brewed drink. Coffee allergies manifest similar symptoms to other allergic reactions and can mimic symptoms of caffeine sensitivity.

In this guide, we’ll explain what coffee allergies are, how to recognize the symptoms of coffee allergies and differentiate them from other similar reactions, and what to do if you think you have a coffee allergy. As always, nothing can replace the attention of a medical professional, and we recommend consulting a doctor if you think you have a coffee allergy.

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Coffee Allergy Causes

Allergic reactions are immune system responses because your body’s defense system gets triggered by some compound in the food or drink as it would by a bacterial or viral infection. One study found an enzyme in coffee that triggered an immune response in some workers exposed to green coffee beans. This kind of immune reaction to coffee is exceedingly rare; however, it is more common than having a reaction to drinking brewed coffee.

green coffee beans
Image Credit: Pixabay

Coffee Allergy Symptoms

Allergic reactions can have a wide range of symptoms depending on how sensitive you are to the allergen and how strong your immune system is. People who are more sensitive to an allergen and people who have stronger immune systems experience more severe symptoms than people with mild sensitivity to the allergen or people with weaker immune systems.

Coffee allergies have many symptoms, including:

  • Rashes and hives
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Throat closing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dry, wheezing cough
  • Pale skin
  • Sudden low blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis and fainting are the two most dangerous symptoms and could cause serious injury or death. Thankfully, these symptoms are rare even among people with coffee allergies, so the odds of experiencing them are vanishingly small. However, regardless of the cause, you should seek immediate medical attention if you exhibit these symptoms.

woman feeling discomfort on her stomach
Image Credit: Pixabay

Coffee Allergy or Caffeine Sensitivity?

Caffeine sensitivity can mimic the symptoms of coffee allergies, making it somewhat confusing to tell what is causing a reaction. However, it is overwhelmingly more likely that any symptoms you experience result from caffeine sensitivity rather than a coffee allergy.

Caffeine sensitivity comes with a few signs that coffee allergies don’t have, most notably insomnia and anxiety. Drinking too much caffeine can lead to shortness of breath, nausea, and stomach pain, making it easy to mistake a reaction to caffeine with an allergic reaction to coffee. To tell the two apart, it is helpful to pay attention to the complete picture. Most often, caffeine will be the culprit behind your symptoms rather than a coffee allergy.

Here is a complete list of symptoms associated with consuming too much caffeine.

  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Excessive sweating
  • Stomach pain

Before you conclude that you have a coffee allergy and cut coffee out of your diet, try reducing the amount of coffee you drink and pay attention to how you feel. Remember, drinking coffee usually doesn’t trigger an allergic reaction, but some people may react to coffee dust and coffee oils. If you carefully wash your hands after handling coffee beans and still have symptoms, it could be that you’re mistaking caffeine sensitivity for coffee allergies.

Experts recommend consuming less than 400 mg of caffeine per day or about four average-strength cups of coffee. If you are sensitive enough to caffeine to experience significant symptoms, you should consider drinking no more than two cups per day. Many people are surprised to learn that they have high caffeine sensitivity and how large an effect it can have on how they feel throughout the day.

Indirect Causes of Coffee Intolerance

While allergic reactions to brewed coffee are virtually nonexistent and allergies to coffee beans are exceedingly rare, some indirect factors could cause a reaction to coffee.

Many coffee farmers use chemicals and pesticides to protect their crops, and these substances could remain on coffee beans in trace amounts after they’re processed. Individuals who are allergic to common pesticide ingredients could experience a reaction to handling coffee beans treated with those chemicals.

Besides unnatural factors like pesticides and chemicals, certain naturally occurring contaminants like bacteria and fungus can also irritate sensitive people. One study showed that some green coffee beans had significant amounts of mycotoxins from toxigenic fungal species. Mycotoxins in green beans could wind up in roasted coffee samples since they are resistant to high temperatures. It is unclear how prevalent mycotoxins are in roasted coffee and whether they exist in high enough concentrations to cause allergic reactions.

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Conclusion

Compared to foods that people typically have allergic reactions to, like shellfish and peanuts, coffee is basically non-allergenic. There are almost no reported cases of allergic reactions from drinking coffee and only a small number of reported cases of allergic reactions to coffee beans, coffee oils, and coffee dust.

Still, other factors like pesticides and fungal contamination could cause symptoms mimicking classic allergic reactions. If you experience symptoms similar to an allergic reaction when you drink coffee, it is most likely that you are having a reaction to caffeine rather than having an allergic reaction to the coffee itself. Consult your doctor if reducing your coffee intake doesn’t resolve your symptoms. There is no replacement for a professional medical opinion.


Featured Image Credit: soi7studio, Shutterstock

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Sean Brennan

Sean’s obsession with coffee started when he received his first French press as a gift almost ten years ago. Since then, his love of coffee – and the number of coffee gadgets he owns – has grown considerably. A scientist by training, there is no stone he has left unturned in the never-ending quest for the perfect cup of coffee. He has spent many hours tuning his pour-over technique, thinking about how to best compare grind quality, and worrying about whether the Nicaraguan or Kenyan beans will make the best cold brew. These days he favors the Hario V60, and starts each day by hand grinding his coffee before enjoying a cup prepared with care and attention to detail.

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