Allergy

Updated 25 January 2018

‘I am allergic to coffee and this is what happens when I drink it'

Imagine your life without that steaming cup of coffee first thing in the morning... For someone with a caffeine allergy, this is a reality.

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Having a caffeine allergy is no joke. It also means that coffee isn't the only thing you have to avoid as caffeine is also found in sodas, tea and even chocolate.

Imagine not being able to consume any of these... 

‘I’m allergic to caffeine’

According to an article in the Asia Pac Allergy journal, anaphylaxis caused by caffeine is rare. However, having an extreme allergic reaction to caffeine is possible. The article reports on a 27-year-old woman who was admitted to hospital with anaphylaxis.

She experienced no previous allergic symptoms and had no family history of allergies.

Before the dangerous reaction, she’d eaten a sweet that contained 42mg of caffeine – she was driving and did not want to feel drowsy. Prior to going into anaphylaxis, her throat began to itch, she had difficulty breathing and then broke out in hives.

Although she recovered, doctors could not understand what had triggered the reaction. Five days later, she experienced an itchy throat in the morning after drinking Japanese green tea and then again in the afternoon after eating coffee jelly.

A positive skin test suggested that her allergy was caused by an IgE-mediated hypersensitivity reaction to caffeine.

She stopped consuming caffeinated foods and drinks and had no further episodes. 

Understanding the allergy

If you’re allergic to a food, you’ll usually notice a reaction within 30 minutes after consuming the allergen. However, a reaction can also occur within five or 10 minutes, or up to four to six hours later.

Common allergic reactions to caffeine are typical symptoms associated with an allergy. They include:

  • Hives or eczema
  • Sneezing
  • Swelling of the throat and mouth
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

“These physical cues are often accompanied by psychiatric responses,” Mariska van Aswegen previously told Health24.

She says that depending on how much caffeine is consumed, “symptoms of a caffeine allergy – also termed by some as a cerebral allergy – can range from mild to severe which include lack of concentration and comprehension, aggression, hyperactivity and disorganised thought processes”.

Where caffeine is found

According to the International Food Information Council Foundation, the average cup of instant coffee contains about 95mg of caffeine, while an espresso has 60mg. And don’t be fooled by the word “decaffeinated” – decaf coffee still contains about 3mg of caffeine per cup.

Black tea averages about 47mg per cup, while green tea comes in at 25mg. A can of soda has about 40mg. Chocolate also contains caffeine – 28g of solid milk chocolate contains about 6mg, while dark chocolate has a bit more at 20mg.

Moderate caffeine consumption is considered between 300 to 400mg per day.

Image credit: iStock

 

Ask the Expert

Allergy expert

Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies.

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