This was previously posted to my old blog, Itch, Swell, Ooze, Wheeze in January 2016. This is an updated version for 2020.
Allergic reactions to the consumption of poultry are surprisingly well documented and have been known to cause anaphylaxis, contact and airborne reactions, allergy to poultry is thought to affect 0.6%–5% of the population.
There is anecdotal evidence of poultry causing eyes to swell closed from handling raw and cooked poultry. Airborne reactions to allergens is always of concern for people who have allergic asthma or respond to certain allergens with breathing problems, this would definitely be something to make a note of when discussing your symptoms with your medical provider.
Diagnosis and Management
Diagnosis for poultry allergy can be diagnosed through skin prick tests and IgE blood tests. As with most allergies, symptoms can be managed by avoidance of the offending food and its by-products.
Other Linked Allergies
In chicken-allergic patients there have been reports of cross reactions from parrot, budgerigar, chicken, pigeon, goose and duck.
Other members of this group of birds include wildfowl such as pheasants and partridges and commonly eaten birds such as quail and turkey. Chicken and turkey meat are cross-reactive and responsible for most allergic reactions while duck and goose meat cause milder or no symptoms.
There is also a link between poultry allergies and alpha gal allergies (allergies to red meat).
The main protein thought to be responsible is Chicken serum albumin (which is identical to alpha livetin found in egg yolk).
This is a partially heat-labile allergen (partially damaged by heat); Small studies have shown that IgE reactivity to Chicken albumin was reduced by 88% after heating at 90 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes.
There is some anecdotal evidence that people may be unable to eat cooked fresh chicken without having allergic symptoms but are able to eat chicken which has been fully frozen before being thawed, cooked, and eaten. This can be explained by a protein shape change caused by freezing or by cooking for an extended period, essentially damaging the protein so it cannot cause a reaction.
The alpha livetin protein is partially heat labile, so some sufferers will only get reactions from raw chicken and others may get reactions depending on how high a temperature the meat was cooked at and how long for.
Are chicken and egg allergy linked?
This is not an entirely crazy question as one comes from the other. This is sometimes called Bird-Egg Syndrome.
Bird-Egg Syndrome is well studied; it is described as a patient with a poultry allergy who becomes sensitised to birds’ eggs.
This new sensitivity to egg is to the proteins in egg yolk, alpha livetin (gal d 5), which is found in both chickens and eggs.
Commonly, IgE allergy to egg is usually from the egg white (proteins gal d 1 to 4), so whilst people who are allergic to chickens can become intolerant or allergic to egg, it doesn’t usually work the other way around due to the different proteins involved.
Allergy to feathers?
Inhalable feather dust contains several allergenic components, which cross-react with serum allergens and with similar bird species.
Allergy to bird feathers is not as common as you might think in commercial products. After intense production, washing and drying at high temperatures most of the allergenic proteins are removed from the feathers.
Unprocessed feathers and prolonged exposure to living birds may cause a patient to come into contact with bird serum proteins (which can cause problems in those allergic to ingesting poultry), bird faeces and feather mites.
Studies have shown that people with egg allergies are unlikely to be allergic to feathers due to the different proteins involved.
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
Gal d 7—a major allergen in primary chicken meat allergy, 2020
Actin as a Possible Cross-Reactive Allergen Between Fish and Poultry, 2019
Meat allergy and allergens, 2018
Molecular and Extract-Based Diagnostics in Meat Allergy, 2017
Update on the bird-egg syndrome and genuine poultry meat allergy, 2016
Chicken Meat Anaphylaxis in a Child with No Allergies to Eggs or Feathers, 2014
Severe Allergy to Chicken Meat, 2006
Bird-egg Syndrome in Children, 2003
Chicken Serum Albumin (Gal D 5*) Is a Partially Heat-Labile Inhalant and Food Allergen Implicated in the Bird-Egg Syndrome, 2001
Identification of Alpha Livetin as a Cross Reacting Allergen in a Bird-Egg Syndrome, 1994
Egg Protein Sensitization in Patients With Bird Feather Allergy, 1991