Unusual Allergies – Honey

Last week we were down in Devon and had the pleasure of visiting Quince Honey Farm in Devon, which is a strange combination of honey museum, live bee hive exhibits (which were my favourite) and a soft play centre for the children (which is the main reason we paid a visit).

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I have a friend who is allergic to honey (and bee venom) and a work colleague keeps bees, so this type of allergy has really piqued my interest this week.

Allergy to honey is relatively uncommon, but has been known to cause anaphylaxis.  It is thought that the cause of the allergic reaction is either from remnants of the bee in the honey or from minute traces of pollen.

As honey is not a top 14 allergen (according to the Food Standards Agency), it may be harder to cater for those suffering from this allergy as it is added to processed food in various forms in things that you wouldn’t expect.

Look out for labels…

For those suffering with severe symptoms look for labels on baked goods, salad dressings, barbecue sauces, cereals, granola bars, smoothies, beers and cocktails.  They will not be labelled as an allergen on UK packaging, so make sure you check very carefully if you or your child suffers from a honey allergy.

Honey is also used as an ingredient in many cosmetics, including lip balms, moisturisers and hair products, so if you suffer from severe reactions it is important to check ingredients on everything you use.

Linked Allergies

Honey is primarily sugar; proteins which may cause allergy have not yet been identified (if there are any).

The linked allergies are from what else may be within the honey, trace contaminants of:

  • Pollen particles
  • Antibiotics and herbicides
  • Bee and hive remnants

Honey remains a more rare allergy, despite the number of people suffering from pollen allergies, as most people are allergic to the pollen of trees and grass than they are to plant pollens.

However there have been studies showing honey which contained pollen from the plant family Compositae (which includes sunflower and ragweed) is more likely to cause allergic symptoms.

Honey varieties

Honey can be mono-floral (honey made from a single type of plant) or multi-floral (honey from lots of different types of plants). E.g. Orange Blossom Honey is made from bees visiting only Orange Blossom plants. Most shop bought honey in the UK is multi-floral.

Honey is often pasteurised, which is not to kill bacteria, as is done in the milk industry, but to kill yeasts which are present from the nectar. It also gives a better appearance to the final product, but is claimed to reduce many of the health benefits, such as vitamins and minerals which may be lost in the heating process.

Non-pasteurised honey is often referred to as Raw Honey (sometimes Artisan Honey in the US) and is roughly filtered to remove large hive components, bee parts and wax which may have inadvertently got into the honey, whilst still retaining all the health benefits. As this is not heat treated to remove trace contaminants it is more likely to cause reactions.

Honey and Venom Links

The link between bee sting allergy and honey allergy is weak. Bee venom is made of several components which work in conjunction with each other; these can be partially lost in the honey making process and would not have the same effect when ingested (I have linked to studies below where links have been made in a couple of cases).

If you think you suffer from any of these allergies you should seek medical advice from your GP, allergist or dietician

References and Further Reading

http://www.quincehoneyfarm.co.uk/

http://www.bbka.org.uk/learn/general_information/honey

Allergy to honey: relation to pollen and honey bee allergy, 1992

Honey allergy is rare in patients sensitive to pollens, 1995

Thermo Scientific – Honey Allergy

Contamination of honey by the herbicide asulam and its antibacterial active metabolite sulfanilamide, 2004

Immunochemical screening for antimicrobial drug residues in commercial honey, 1998

Whole bee for Diagnosis of Honey Allergy, 2002

Hymenoptera Venom Allergy

Venom allergy, 1998

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2 Responses to Unusual Allergies – Honey

  1. Thank you so much for this informative website. I’m particularly interested in nut allergies and have done several posts on my NutGourmet website–also on WordPress. I’ll be checking into this site frequently.

  2. Pingback: 2017 Family Allergy Update | Itch, swell, ooze and wheeze

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