Citrus Allergies Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Citrus Allergies Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

An individual with a citrus allergy may experience mild to the severe reaction when they get in touch with citrus fruits like oranges, limes, and lemons. Such people may develop different allergic symptoms even if they come in contact with various citrus-derived products.

While citrus allergy is not very common, the reaction may cause mild to very severe symptoms. People having an allergy to grass are usually more likely to develop an allergy to citrus fruits and products. In this article, we are assisting you to understand various causes and symptoms of citrus allergy. We will also explain how you can identify allergy from citrus, the preventive measures, and a wide range of alternatives. Let’s have a look.

Citrus allergy causes

Your body develops an allergic reaction when your immune system misidentifies citrus fruits or other citrus-derived products as harmful stimuli. Due to your immune system’s misjudgement, even a bit of citrus extract becomes an allergen for your body.

Some individuals having pollen allergies may also react differently to citrus extracts. This usually happens due to the cross-reactivity of two different allergens. According to research back in 2013, pollen and grass allergies may also be vulnerable to allergies from citrus. As many as 39 percent of participants with grass and pollen allergies reflected different citrus allergy symptoms on going through a skin prick test. However, sometimes people also react to a prick test without showing any symptom whatsoever.

Citrus Allergy Symptoms

Individuals with citrus allergy may develop symptoms immediately after contacting a citrus fruit, citrus juice, or other products derived from citrus. On the other hand, symptoms appear after a few hours of contact with citrus. Some people may even show symptoms of citrus allergy after inhaling citrus particles from the air.

Symptoms are usually limited to different types of responses from different body surfaces, including gums, lips, throat, tongue, and other parts exposed to citrus or citrus products.

Common Citrus Allergy Symptoms Include:

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Tingling sensations

Contact dermatitis may also occur on touching the citrus fruits’ peels, which may lead to:

  • Blisters
  • A burning sensation on the affected skin
  • Extreme itching
  • Dry and flaky skin
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Hives

Some people may also develop various respiratory and digestive troubles after getting a citrus allergy. Some uncommon symptoms in such cases are:

  • Coughing
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Wheezing

Foods to Avoid

If you have some citrus allergy symptoms, you should not only avoid consuming but touching citrus fruits and other citrus-derived products.

Citrus fruits include:

  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Grapefruits
  • Oranges
  • Mandarins
  • Kumquats

To your surprise, a wide range of prepared and processed foods contain some extracts of citrus. You must check the labels of products like:

  • Ice creams
  • Lemonades, juices, and other beverages
  • Jellies
  • Flavored yogurts
  • Herbal teas
  • Seafood, meat dishes, duck dishes, baked fish, and prawn cocktails, etc.
  • Dressings and sauces like sour and sweet sauces and mayonnaise.
  • Chutneys and pickles
  • Marinades
  • Alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails
  • Confectionary and candies, including cookies, cheesecakes, and candied peels.
  • Bioflavonoid and vitamin C supplements.

Some personal care products like perfumes, toothpaste, cosmetics, etc., often contain limonene, a citrus peels compound that may be responsible for contact dermatitis.

Alternative Foods

Some people with citrus allergy feel okay after consuming cooked citrus fruits, as heat deactivates the protein triggers responsible for an allergic reaction. And hence, cooked citrus fruits can be great alternative foods for such people.

Those with severe citrus allergy and can’t tolerate even an essence of citrus have to eliminate citrus from their diet. However, adding a bit of tart flavor to the meal without citrus is still possible. Here are some popular citrus substitutes.

  • Herbs like sumac and lemon verbena
  • White wine
  • Vinegar

Citric acid is usually used for flavor, firming agent, as well as a preservative. Yes, it may cause oral and skin irritation, but it doesn’t usually trigger an allergic reaction. However, people with prolonged allergy to citrus would want to go for some better substitutes.

As citrus fruits are very good sources of vitamin C, some people may feel bad knowing that they can’t get enough vitamin C from tangy, juicy citrus fruits. However, here is great news for such people. Here are some other delicious foods containing a decent amount of vitamin C:

  • Broccoli
  • Bell peppers
  • Cauliflower
  • Mangoes
  • Kiwis
  • Papayas
  • Strawberries

When Should You Visit a Doctor?

Anyone having citrus allergy should see an allergist for proper and correct treatment recommendations. The doctor may suggest an allergy test along with detailed history and multiple health check-ups.

Anaphylaxis or severe citrus allergy is rare, but some documented cases of citrus causing anaphylaxis. In such a scenario, immediate medical attention is very important.

Citrus Allergy Diagnosis

The doctor may ask in detail about diet and symptoms and assess the condition through a physical examination. In mild symptoms, the doctor may suggest keeping a food diary to keep track of meals. It can be very helpful to identify possible triggers.

The doctor may recommend an allergy test, but such tests are usually not very effective, as they may even show false-positive or false-negative results. Also, similar symptoms may be noticed in other food allergies too.

Citrus Allergy Treatment

There is no proven cure for citrus allergy. However, symptoms may be improved with a combination of a change in diet, management, and medications. Avoiding exposure to citrus fruits and other derivatives of citrus must be avoided completely.


Different types of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications may be proved effective. Depending on different symptoms, your doctor may suggest:

  • Antihistamines
  • Inhalers
  • Lotions of ointments
  • Immunotherapy
  • Emergency epinephrine: People having severe citrus allergy are at high risk of developing anaphylaxis. The doctor may advise them to keep an emergency epinephrine injector handy every time.

The Takeaway

A citrus allergy is rare but can be potentially severe. Elimination of citrus fruits and other citrus-derived products from the diet can help eliminate or at least reduce the symptoms.

With no proven cure, a combination of medications, eliminating diet, self-management, immunotherapy, etc., can alleviate citrus allergy symptoms. Hopefully, you are now well informed about citrus allergy, and you can help yourself or someone in your family or friends with an allergy to citrus.