Unusual Allergies – Honey

This was previously posted to my old blog, Itch, Swell, Ooze, Wheeze in August 2015. This is an updated version for 2020.

We went to Devon a few years ago on holiday and had the pleasure of visiting Quince Honey Farm, which I am pleased to say in 2020 is still going strong.

It is a strange combination of honey museum, live beehive exhibits (which were my favourite) and a soft play centre for the children, which was the main reason we paid a visit.

Quince Honey Farm

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

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 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 would not 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 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).

Jemma


Disclaimer

This is a blog and should not be used for advice on diagnosis or treatments.  If you think you may have a food allergy please contact your GP in the first instance to discuss treatment options.


References and Further Reading

Websites

http://www.allergyresources.co.uk/Honey.php

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

Thermo Scientific – Honey Allergy

Research Papers

A rare case of multiple severe anaphylaxis caused by thyme, black pepper, wasp and honey, 2019

Ragweed components in honey, 2017

Anaphylaxis caused by honey: a case report, 2017

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

Whole bee for Diagnosis of Honey Allergy, 2002

Immunochemical screening for antimicrobial drug residues in commercial honey, 1998

Venom allergy, 1998

Honey allergy is rare in patients sensitive to pollens, 1995

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

Published by Jemma D

I love to write about food allergies, asthma and eczema.

One thought on “Unusual Allergies – Honey

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