What to Know About Garlic Allergies

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on February 20, 2024
4 min read

Garlic is a bulbous herb that’s often used in cooking the same way onions and chives are, adding a pungent, savory flavor. But for some people, garlic allergies can make it dangerous. 

Like all allergies, garlic allergies are caused by a response by your immune system

When your immune system thinks you’ve come into contact with something that may be harmful to your body, it makes antibodies. If your immune system creates antibodies to fight something that isn’t actually harmful, the reaction is known as an allergy.

Food allergies are a specific type of allergy that can be triggered by even a tiny amount of something. They affect up to 8% of children and 3% of adults. Peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish cause the majority of food allergies.

Compared with other food allergies, garlic allergies are rare. Most clinical trials regarding garlic have found that bad breath and body odor are the main discomforts tied to garlic, but some have shown that garlic can cause allergic reactions. 

Common symptoms of garlic allergies are a skin rash (contact dermatitis) and asthma. Other symptoms include: 

  • Hives, itching, or redness of the skin
  • Tingling or itching of the mouth
  • Swelling around the mouth, tongue, face, or throat
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or fainting

As with any allergies, symptoms of garlic allergies can differ from person to person. They usually show a few minutes to a couple of hours after you eat garlic.

Food allergies can be hard to diagnose. 

One reason why is that symptoms might not show up for up to 2 hours after you've come into contact with the food you’re allergic to. If you ate other foods within that time period, or if the foods had many ingredients, it might be hard to pinpoint which is causing the reaction.  

Food allergies are often confused with food intolerances. Your immune system isn’t behind intolerances. Instead, they may be caused by:

Food intolerances are usually less severe than food allergies. Symptoms are typically limited to the digestive system.

If you suspect you may be allergic to garlic, talk to your doctor. They’ll talk to you about your symptoms and your history. If they think you may have a garlic allergy, they can do a skin test or a blood test to be sure. 

Allergic reactions are unpredictable. If you’ve had one before, a later reaction could be more severe, less severe, or the same. This can make it hard to know what symptoms you might notice during a future allergic reaction. 

The biggest risk to having a food allergy is anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that happens when your immune system sends a rush of chemicals through your body. These chemicals can send your body into shock

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Skin rash
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Swollen tongue or throat
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Dizziness or fainting

Most allergies can’t be cured. This means that the best way to deal with a food allergy is to avoid coming into contact with that food. You may need to: 

  • Wash dishes thoroughly before cooking with them
  • Wash surfaces like counters after someone else has been cooking
  • Tell people about your food allergy and asking them not to cook with garlic when you’re eating at their house
  • Let chefs at restaurants know about your garlic allergy and asking them to cook your food separately from other food in the restaurant
  • Eat food at parties only when you know the ingredients that went into each item

It’s also important to keep emergency epinephrine, like an EpiPen, on hand if your doctor has told you to do so. 

If you have a severe allergic reaction to garlic, call 911 right away, even if you use an EpiPen. EpiPens can wear off after 30 minutes or less, and your doctor will want to keep an eye on you to make sure your allergic reaction doesn’t return.

Children may outgrow food allergies over time. But because allergic reactions can be so severe, only a doctor should test to see if a child has outgrown a food allergy. 

Your doctor will first perform a skin prick test to see if the allergy has gone away. Skin prick tests work by exposing the body to a small amount of an allergen and watching for a reaction. It’s important to do this under the eye of a doctor in case the reaction is severe. 

If initial testing goes well, doctors will do a food test to make sure a child can truly tolerate garlic again. 

Adults are much less likely to outgrow food allergies. In fact, adults may develop allergies to food at any time. These food allergies can be hard to predict. So even if you’ve had a mild allergic reaction to garlic as an adult, it’s important to take your allergy seriously in the future.