Sesame Allergies on the Rise in U.S.
Sesame Seed Allergy Now Among Most Common Food Allergies
March 16, 2009 (Washington, D.C.) -- Blame the hummus!
Sesame seed allergies are rapidly rising in the U.S., but most Americans
never even consider sesame bagels, hummus, or other sesame-containing foods as
the source of their or their kids’ allergies, food allergy experts say.
And if your child is allergic to tree nuts, there’s a good chance he or she
is allergic to sesame as well, new research shows.
“Sesame allergies have probably increased more than any other type of food
allergy over the past 10 to 20 years,” says Robert Wood, MD, director of the
division of pediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins University School
of Medicine in Baltimore.
“They’re now clearly one of the six or seven most common food allergens in
the U.S.,” he tells WebMD.
Yet, the FDA does not recognize them as such, as there are no well designed
studies looking at how many cases occur each year, Wood says. The FDA blames
milk, eggs, fish and shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans for 90%
of food allergies in the U.S.
That’s why Ama Alexis, MD, isn’t surprised that there is little awareness of
this type of allergy. Alexis, a fellow in the division of allergy and
immunology at Schneider Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park, N.Y., is one of
several researchers trying to better characterize sesame allergies in the
Alexis traces the steady rise in cases to a more ethnically diverse
“We’re eating more foods that contain sesame seeds: falafel, tahini, hummus,
and halvah, for example,” she says.
On top of that, “three quarters of Mexico’s sesame seeds go to McDonald’s
for their sesame buns. Sesame is also widely used in cosmetics like lipsticks
and moisturizing creams,” Alexis tells WebMD.
To find out more about sesame allergy, Alexis and colleagues mined the
medical records of patients with a food allergy seen at their clinic between
2005 and 2008. They identified 17 patients with sesame allergy, ranging in age
from 8 months to 44 years.
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of
Asthma and Immunology.
Their most common symptom was hives, in 41% of patients, followed by eczema
in 29%. Twenty-three percent developed a dangerous swelling of the face and of
the throat that blocks airways, referred to as angioedema. Stomach upset and
wheezing or other breathing problems were also common, affecting 23% and 12% of
All but one patient had a strong family history of allergies. And 70% of the
patients were also allergic to tree nuts, while 65% were allergic to
In a separate study, Boston researchers found that kids who have had
allergic reactions to tree nuts are nearly three times more likely to have
allergic reactions to sesame seeds. The relationship between peanut and sesame
allergies was less clear, says researcher Lisa Stutius, MD, of Children’s