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Coffee Allergy: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Coffee Allergy: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Clark Clark
7 minute read

For many of us, coffee is our morning fuel and boasts many health benefits. However, a coffee allergy or caffeine allergy could get in the way of this morning ritual.

Allergies can cause symptoms that range from mild to life-threatening, which is enough to deter even the most devoted coffee drinkers.

Can you be allergic to coffee? Yes, you can be allergic to coffee, just as it’s possible to be allergic to any food or beverage. A coffee allergy is an immune system response to coffee beans or any compound in its makeup. Though 85 million Americans suffer from food allergies and intolerances, coffee allergy is relatively rare.

That said, caffeine sensitivity is a bit more common. Such sensitivities can cause similar reactions to a coffee allergy and are worthwhile to know about.

What causes a coffee allergy?

The immune system protects the body against harmful substances and pathogens. Sometimes, it overreacts to a substance it perceives as dangerous, making that substance an allergen. 

The body then releases Immunoglobulin E (IgE), antibodies that help fight off/destroy the threat. The body also releases histamine, which actually causes allergic responses in the body’s different systems. 

This is why allergy medications contain antihistamines — they help rein in the results of histamine activity (allergy symptoms) in the body.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to coffee are:

  • Hives
  • Skin rashes
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Dizziness
  • Swelling of the tongue or throat
  • Fatigue 
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Anaphylaxis, a rare, life-threatening allergic reaction that results in difficulty breathing and weak pulse 

If you’re allergic to coffee, these symptoms are likely to set in within moments of coffee consumption; however, it can take up to a couple of hours for these symptoms to manifest. Should you experience any of the above symptoms, especially more than one, seek medical assistance immediately or use an epinephrine injection.

Is it the coffee or the caffeine?

Though it’s possible to be allergic to coffee itself, it’s also possible to be allergic to a compound in coffee like caffeine. Even so, a caffeine allergy is about as rare as a coffee allergy. A caffeine intolerance is more likely. 

What are the symptoms of caffeine allergy?

  • Skin rash
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Migraines 
  • Lip, tongue, or throat swelling
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Coughing
  • Anaphylaxis, in rare cases

What is the treatment for a caffeine allergy?The first step is confirming the caffeine allergy with a diagnosis from a doctor or an allergist. Then, you would take measures to ensure you don’t consume caffeine, even accidentally. You would need to research what foods and beverages contain caffeine and become a label-reader.

Though allergies are manageable, there is currently no known cure for them.

Signs & Symptoms

Caffeine sensitivity is more likely than a caffeine allergy. Though the FDA asserts 400 milligrams of coffee (about four small cups) is a normal level of consumption, this could prove to be too much for some.

Side effects of sensitivity to caffeine intake are as follows:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Perspiration

Allergy vs. Sensitivity

Food allergy and food intolerance are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. Food allergies activate the body’s immune system. Food allergies can cause more severe symptoms and can be life-threatening.

Food intolerance affects the digestive system. Intolerance is the body’s inability to process something thoroughly or at all. Symptoms (bloating, cramps, diarrhea, constipation, etc.) tend to be more moderate than those of food allergies and are restricted to this singular system of the body.

A food allergy is the body’s way of communicating, “I find this substance unhealthy.” A food intolerance is the body’s way of communicating, “I dislike/potentially cannot process this substance.”

Diagnosis & Treatment

What can you do if you think you’re allergic to coffee? If you think you might be allergic to coffee or caffeine or are sensitive to them, consult your healthcare provider. A skin test can determine if you’re truly allergic to either coffee or caffeine. 

If you’re trying to determine whether or not you’re coffee intolerant or caffeine intolerant, you might try keeping a food journal. Jot down what each meal consists of and how your body responds to it. This could help you determine whether coffee or caffeine is the culprit.

If symptoms persist and you still can’t pinpoint the problem, you might consider an elimination diet. As the name suggests, you would eliminate coffee and caffeine from your diet for about a month. Then, you would try small amounts of each and monitor how you react to coffee and caffeine consumption.

Other Foods to Avoid

If you find that you’re sensitive to the effects of caffeine, there are other foods and beverages to beware of as they also contain caffeine.

  • Soda
  • Energy drinks
  • Black teas
  • Espresso
  • Chocolate

If you’ve come to rely on a regular caffeine boost, you could experience withdrawal symptoms once you cut caffeine from your diet. 

Alternatives

If you’re looking to cut down on coffee or caffeine, but yearn for that familiar warm or iced beverage in hand, alternatives do exist, and their popularity is on the rise.

Go-to alternatives tend to be decaffeinated coffee and teas, especially green tea. Though these options do not cut out caffeine entirely, they do have significantly less caffeine. If nothing else, these alternatives could help you transition away from caffeinated beverages.

Gold coffee is another option, especially if you want to maximize the more positive coffee characteristics and minimize some of the negative qualities such as an upset stomach, acid reflux, or bloating.

(To toot our own horn, gold coffee by Golden Ratio is an excellent coffee for people who struggle with stomach sensitivity after most coffee. It’s the lowest acid coffee out there!)

Golden milk is a nutrient-rich beverage that is caffeine-free. It consists of animal or plant milk, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and a sweetener of sorts. It’s a great source of calcium, magnesium, and curcumin (which has been linked to lower risk of inflammation, like coffee).

If you drink coffee for the taste, chicory root coffee would be a great alternative. It tastes very much like coffee and doesn’t contain caffeine. 

Finally, if you can no longer turn to coffee for an energy boost, believe it or not, healthy food is the ideal energy source. Too often, we try to get energy as quickly as possible, and our go-to is a beverage. Instead, we should take the time to select and prepare a healthy meal or snack.

Sources

  1. FARE
  2. Food Allergy | ACAAI Public Website
  3. Immunoglobulin E (IgE) Defined | AAAAI
  4. Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much? | FDA.

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