Sesame Allergy

What Is a Sesame Allergy?

A sesame allergy is an adverse reaction to sesame seeds or sesame products. When someone with this type of allergy consumes sesame, their immune system mistakenly identifies certain proteins in the seed as harmful, triggering an allergic reaction. It is common to ask, "Can sesame seeds cause allergy?" The answer is a definite yes. In fact, it has emerged as one of the most common food allergies in the U.S.

The symptoms of a sesame allergy vary. While some may experience mild reactions such as itchiness or hives, others might encounter more severe reactions that can potentially be fatal. These severe reactions, known as anaphylaxis, require immediate medical attention.

Given the potential severity of this allergy, it is crucial for individuals diagnosed with a sesame allergy to avoid consuming sesame and to be prepared to treat any accidental exposures.

Signs & Symptoms

Sesame allergy symptoms can be mild to very severe. Your doctor might also refer to these sesame allergy reactions as sesame oil allergy symptoms or sesame seed allergy symptoms.

Common sesame allergy signs:

  • Itchy skin
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Stomach pain
  • Watery eyes
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dry cough
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Tight throat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Passing out
  • Anaphylaxis


Sesame allergy causes are linked to the body's immune response. When someone with a sesame allergy consumes sesame seeds or sesame oil, their immune system mistakenly identifies certain proteins in the seed as harmful invaders. The body then produces antibodies against these proteins, which can lead to the release of histamine and other chemicals, causing allergic symptoms.

Two common sources of sesame:

  • Sesame Seeds—Small, nutritious seeds that are often found in bread, tahini, and various other dishes. They contain specific proteins that can trigger allergic reactions in individuals with a sesame allergy.
  • Sesame Oil—Extracted from sesame seeds, this oil is commonly used in cooking and cosmetic products. Even when refined, the oil might still contain trace amounts of proteins capable of provoking an allergic reaction.

Understanding the root of sesame allergy causes helps in better management and prevention. It is important to be aware of the potential presence of sesame seeds and sesame oil in various products and dishes, especially if you or someone you know has a diagnosed sesame allergy.


Your doctor will make a sesame allergy diagnosis based on a routine examination, your medical history, and one or more tests. These tests might include a blood teste, skin prick test, or oral food challenge.

Blood Test

A blood test measures the number of specific antibodies, known as IgE antibodies, produced in response to sesame proteins. If your blood shows a heightened level of these antibodies when exposed to sesame components, it might indicate an allergy.

Skin Prick Test

The skin prick test is another widely used method to diagnose sesame allergies. During this test, a small amount of the allergenic substance—in this case, sesame— is introduced into the skin using a tiny needle. If someone is allergic, they will typically develop a raised bump at the test site within approximately 20 minutes. This immediate reaction provides a quick indication of the presence of allergy.

Oral Food Challenge

Considered the gold standard for allergy diagnosis, the oral food challenge involves consuming sesame under strict medical supervision. The amount of sesame is gradually increased during the test to monitor for any allergic reactions. If symptoms develop, the test is halted, and your doctor administers appropriate interventions. This test can confirm with a high degree of certainty whether someone has a sesame allergy. However, due to its potential risks, it is generally reserved for situations where the results from other tests are inconclusive.

Risk Factors 

If you experience a sesame allergy, there is a chance you could also be allergic to other seeds and nuts.

For example, someone with a sesame allergy might also react to hazelnut, rye grain, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and Brazil nuts. Not everyone with a sesame allergy will have these other allergies. However, it is a good idea to be aware of the possibility of these sesame allergy risk factors.

Treatment & Prevention

Sesame allergy treatment involves both addressing symptoms when they arise and taking steps to prevent exposure in the first place.

For milder symptoms of a sesame allergy, a doctor might prescribe antihistamines to reduce itching, hives, and other allergic reactions. Always follow a doctor's advice and only use medications as directed. To prevent allergic reactions, be aware of and avoid foods and products that contain sesame. Reading ingredient labels can help keep you safe.

Some allergic reactions can be much more severe, leading to a condition called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is an intense, life-threatening allergic reaction that can happen very quickly. A person might have trouble breathing, a fast or faint heartbeat, get a skin rash, or even faint. If someone is experiencing an anaphylactic reaction, a rapid response is necessary. The primary treatment for anaphylaxis is an injection of epinephrine, which can quickly reduce severe symptoms. A doctor will often prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector that you can carry with you.

After using the epinephrine injector, it is important to call 911 and go straight to the emergency room. Sometimes a second wave of symptoms can occur, which is why medical supervision is necessary. Prioritize safety and seek immediate medical attention in such scenarios.

Foods & Non-Food Items to Avoid

Managing a sesame allergy effectively requires awareness of both foods and non-food items that contain sesame. Consuming or using products with sesame can trigger an allergic reaction.

Foods that may contain sesame include:

  • Tahini
  • Hummus
  • Halvah
  • Breadsticks
  • Bagels
  • Rolls
  • Asian dishes
  • Sesame snaps
  • Sesame bars
  • Crackers
  • Cookies
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces

Non-food items can also be a hidden source of sesame, and being aware of these sources is a key part of sesame allergy prevention.

Non-food items that can contain sesame include:

  • Cosmetics lotions
  • Cosmetic creams
  • Perfumes
  • Soaps and shampoos
  • Supplements
  • Medications
  • Massage oils
  • Pet food

For comprehensive sesame allergy prevention, always read ingredient labels carefully. Manufacturers often list potential allergens, including sesame. Additionally, familiarize yourself with terms related to sesame, such as "sesamol" or "sesamum indicum," which could be used on labels. When dining out, communicate your allergy clearly to restaurant staff. Do not hesitate to ask about ingredients in dishes. Taking these precautions can significantly reduce the risk of accidental exposure.

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