Caffeine Allergy: The Risks and The Truth

Worldwide, people drink more than a billion cups of coffee daily. Furthermore, an average person consumes almost 5 kilograms of roasted beans a year! We all know that drinking this is embedded in many traditions and cultures, some even regard it as an establishment.

As you enjoy a cup  do you ever wonder if we are at risk of having coffee or caffeine allergy? Without intending any harm or panic, let us explore the possibilities if we are at risk of having this condition that can even cause a medical emergency.

heap coffee beans


Early Reports

Initial medical cases and studies about coffee allergy had reported asthma attacks and lung problems among production plant workers in the 1950’s. The causes of these said ‘caffeine allergy symptoms’ had been argued in the scientific community for several years until the year 1978 when a group of scientists have demonstrated that green beans can directly cause caffeine anaphylaxis (severe shock).

Around 20 years after, sad to say, the same group of these production workers had increased coffee sensitivity, even with roasted beans instead of only green beans. This incidence leads to a probability that coffee allergens, the then-unknown specific components (and some say it was the caffeine) from the green beans causing the symptoms, can survive in the roasting process.This also means that the general population of coffee lovers may also be at risk for this said allergy or asthma attacks.


What Modern Studies Say

Modern-day scientists have isolated a specific coffee allergen that was named cof a 1. The isolation of this component solves the puzzle above, ie that caffeine does not cause the asthma attacks from the green bean exposure. But instead, another component of the beans.

This finding can also help in standardizing the diagnostic caffeine allergy test and also its medical treatment. Since the medical management specifically for the said coffee allergy, and now more appropriately-termed as coffee worker’s lung, is not yet established even during the present time.


The Reality

By now, you are probably thinking this question: what does it really mean when we hear someone complaining of caffeine allergy? If that someone has a history of working in a production or roasting plant, he may have the said coffee worker’s lung and not an allergic response. Moreover, if he manifests asthma and lung problems along with the said history or when he ingested coffee that were not roasted very well, he may probably have the said condition.

In addition, if a physician says that you have allergy or when someone tells you that he has one, he may refer to caffeine intolerance or high sensitivity, a medical condition belonging to a spectrum of food disorders that are generally called multiple chemical sensitivity.

Symptoms of this caffeine sensitivity include the following:

  • feeling of being easily tired or weak
  • easy fatigability (<6 months)
  • memory deterioration or difficulties
  • difficulty in concentration or attention

If the said 4 symptoms occur at the same time after ingesting coffee, an individual has a higher probability of having a caffeine allergy.

But if other symptoms like a skin rash or a fever are also present along with the previously mentioned four, he may not have the said condition but a worse or different one, like an infection or sepsis. Rosacea is also reported as a side effect of caffeinated drinks in some.

In addition, caffeine allergy is usually a hereditary and inborn condition. Acquiring this condition from drinking too much coffee is definitely rare and this truth is definitely a relief for connoisseurs everywhere. But we must also take note that too much intake of any food or drink will always be a threat to the health.

It is also crucial to distinguish that if someone has ca problem, he may not only be ‘allergic’ to coffee but also to other products containing caffeine, such as chocolates, tea, and soda. So when one has caffeine allergy with chocolate for example, this means he is also intolerant to other caffeinated products as well. This form of allergy to a specific component of food or beverage is just one specific type of multiple chemical sensitivity. Allergies in different individuals vary by type and intensity, and one can also have another type like a gluten or wheat allergy. Lactose intolerance, ie due to milk is also a possible cause of any problems.

Note also that caffeine toxicity, due to high levels of intake, is possible. This is not an allergy but causes common side effects of over-doing its intake, eg the shakes or mild dizziness. Death is possible with this toxicity, but extremely unlikely with regular caffeinated drinks. There are some reports, however of fatalities from overdose of caffeine pills.

If you are worried about this or any other possible allergy, do contact your health professional.

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