Healthcare professionals do not deny the possibility of cocoa allergy but it is believed to occur rarely. Only a small percentage of individuals experience an actual food allergy and most individuals react to one or more of the eight well-known food allergens such as tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, fish and shellfish. Oftentimes, individuals who are allergic to cocoa are only reacting to another component or ingredient in the cocoa product.
What are the potential culprits?
For identification purposes, the name of the actual beans is spelled as “cacao” while the bean ground into powder as “cocoa”. Once ground into powder form, the bean comes in contact with surfaces and other substances. Take note that the equipment might have been utilized in processing other products and the powder might be mixed with sweeteners and preservatives before added to a chocolate product.
The traditional chocolate bars contain not only cacao bean parts, but also other ingredients such as artificial sweeteners, sugar, nuts, milk, soy, wheat, caffeine and corn syrup. Oftentimes, an individual with gluten or lactose intolerance might react to the wheat or milk content while those who have nut allergies can react to bits of peanuts or to the peanut oil in candies. In addition, chocolate might also contain nickel which is capable of triggering skin reactions in some individuals.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms typically linked with allergy to cocoa or cocoa-based products include the following:
- Hives and other skin rashes
- Rectal itching
- Breathing difficulty
In severe cases, exposure to cocoa can trigger anaphylaxis which is a severe and life-threatening reaction characterized by confusion, shortness of breath, abrupt drop in the blood pressure, heart palpitations, dizziness, diarrhea, nausea and loss of consciousness. Once anaphylaxis is suspected, call for emergency assistance as soon as possible.
A doctor should be consulted for proper diagnosis of the exact cause of the condition. The initial step is to conduct a physical examination and ask about previous reactions. The doctor might recommend a skin or blood test to determine bodily reactions to specific allergens.
In case an individual is actually allergic to cacao bean, avoidance of all products that contain cocoa is vital. The individual should also be careful with cola products since the antigens might be linked and trigger similar reactions.
If an individual is sensitive to an ingredient often mixed with cocoa in products, carefully read the ingredients listed on the labels before consumption. Manufacturers are required to indicate on the labels whether their products contain or may have been exposed to any of the common 8 food allergens.
A doctor should be consulted first but the individual might be able to tolerate high-quality dark chocolate which contains fewer ingredients. In addition, based on the severity of the allergy, the individual should use a medical alert ID bracelet. If the doctor prescribes an allergy medication such as an epinephrine auto-injector, it should be on-hand at all times.