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Sunflower Allergy: My hardest allergy to manage

Sunflower Allergy: My hardest allergy to manage

Sunflower Allergy

Can you be allergic to sunflower seeds? Ummm, yes! Yes you can.

Did you know that of all my allergies, a sunflower allergy is the hardest to manage? It isn’t in the top 8 or the top 9 or even in Europe’s wonderful top 14. That’s because it isn’t all that common, but it shows up in so so so many places, including many free from brands.

Since an allergy to sunflower seeds and sunflower oil is quite unusual a lot of people doubt it is “real”. I encounter many people (even in the allergy community) who have a hard time believing it is possible to have a sunflower allergy. But it’s real and I have the stories to prove it.

sunflower seed allergy

Defending my sunflower seed allergy

Sunflower Allergy Rash for 3 months

When I was 16 I did a student exchange to France. The exchange family was informed about my food allergies. Plus their daughter had already stayed with us for 3 months, so she knew about them first hand. Needless to say, they did not believe in all of my allergies. Peanuts, sure that’s common. But sunflower seeds and oil? Couldn’t be. Plus this allergy was extremely inconvenient to their cooking routine.

The whole time I was with the family, I had constant rashy hives and could not for the life of me figure out why. I had antihistamines and hydrocortisone cream with me, but they didn’t seem to help because when I stopped the hives just came back!

I remember talking to my parents on the phone expressing my concern and how I thought the laundry detergent was causing it. The last week of my exchange, I walked into the kitchen as my exchange-mom was preparing lunch and saw her using sunflower oil! Mystery solved. My constant rash was caused by them using sunflower oil.

Hives for days

It’s funny how I blame things other than food for my mystery hives. Like the time I was staying at my sister’s house. I used her olive oil, which looked all fancy and gourmet. I trusted she would never buy mixed oil (this is why you never assume and always read the labels). I had prepared a lot of food with the ‘olive oil’ while visiting her and to take with as my mom and I were heading on a road trip to NYC.

The whole time I was at my sister’s and the first day we were in NYC I was covered in hives. Neither my mom or I could figure out what was going on. That was until my sister called and asked if I had used the olive oil at her house. I had. On the other side of the line, I could hear her concern of how it was half olive and half sunflower!

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It was not my face cream after all, which was the only thing we could think would be causing the hives even though I had been using it for years. Another sunflower allergy rash solved.

sunflower oil allergy

Facing the sunflower allergy doubters

Somehow I always feel I need to tell these two stories whenever someone questions if my sunflower allergy is real. And I have even more ready in case they still doubt me. If you are curious check out why you should never trust restaurant table oil.

Being questioned about an allergy can be really frustrating, especially when you can tell they don’t believe you at all. Living with food allergies that aren’t in the top 8 or 14 makes me encounter a lot more doubters. I like to keep it positive and educational when I have to defend myself, however sometimes I need to whip out my favourite line: “trust me I would love to not have to worry about reading ingredients all the time”.

How to manage an uncommon allergy

If you have an uncommon allergy the advice I can give you is to stick up for yourself. People may doubt you, but don’t doubt yourself. And as always use this as an opportunity to educate. Remember when you talk about food allergies you are acting as an advocate for the whole community. You never know who the person you are talking to will meet next, it may just be another person with an unusual food allergy like you!

View Comments (22)
  • I too have a similar allergy…olives and olive oil…I feel your pain… sadly it’s my parents who keep trying to get me too microdose myself with olive oil to get rid of this allergy

  • It’s interesting that the refined oil affects you too. Haven’t some studies shown that peanut oil isn’t as high of a risk for peanut allergies? I’d imagine there is still a concern for many though, and it sounds like for you! To be honest, it’s hard enough to convince people that milk really is a top allergen – I can only imagine with sunflower seeds.

    • Some studies have indeed shown that. I have been told to outright avoid all things peanut. I’m really surprised that people have a hard time believing that milk is a top allergen. Whenever I go out they always double check with me that milk is really not one of my allergens.

  • My daughter is also allergic to sunflower seeds along with a bunch in the top 8. It is definitely frustrating that a lot of the nut-safe products use sunbutter as a replacement. It’s taught us to be more vigilant when we see so-called allergy-safe snacks. Luckily for us, she is ok with sunflower oil in products, although I do not cook with it.

    • That is lucky she can have sunflower oil in products. It’s a shame because there are a lot of products that would be amazing to try and who have worked so hard at making them safe from top 8.

  • My mother was allergic to cucumbers. She eventually went into anaphylactic shock after eating a homemade chopped salad at a gathering. After that, she carried epinephrine (this was before the epi pen – we all had to learn to give injections.)

    I am willing to believe in all kinds of weird allergies. After all, an allergy is, pretty much by definition, an atypical response to a substance that does not harm most people… I don’t expect it to be “normal.”

  • It’s such a shame that people don’t believe allergy stories! Worse yet is not taking them seriously. Keep sharing your stories and awareness will continue to grow!

    • Thanks Jules. I think there has been a grey area created in mixing allergies with diets and eating fads. More real stories definitely helps make the distinction.

  • yep – I have a friend with a sunflower allergy, and she says the same! so many offer sunflower seeds as an allergy alternative, too.

    thank you again for writing about the important aspects of allergy and diet – truly eye opening for many!

    • Thanks Kristina. I am always excited to hear about more people with this allergy. Maybe we will be able to convince chip companies to stop flying in sunflower oil lol – my waistline wouldn’t be so happy but my taste buds would be!

  • Thanks for sharing your story! My children are allergic to PORK… and not just the protein, anything derived from pork. It’s terrible, it is not
    one of the top 8 AND it is in EVERYTHING – marshmallows, candy, MEDICINE. I am grateful to you for sharing your stories. My children were just diagnosed after 4 years of allergic reactions and the scars that they’ve left on their skin and on their psyche.

    • Thank you for sharing Norma. I can only imagine how hard it must be to navigate a food allergy that has so many variations. Do you rely on a lot of kosher food?

  • My son is also allergic to sunflower. I agree with you that it is one of the hardest ones to manage. I would say pea/legumes are another really tough one. Anything outside of the top 8. Both seem to be used in a lot of free from alternatives. Some day I’d love to see more information gathered on sunflower, as it does seem to be increasing in popularity. From what I can tell, there isn’t any research or tracking of it right now. I spoke with someone from FARE a few weeks ago and they said they weren’t aware of any. With sesame finally being considered by the FDA here in the states, maybe there will be a time where research and funds can be devoted to other allergies. As always, thanks for sharing and advocating!

    • Thanks Abbie! It seems like one allergen at a time. Sunflower isn’t recognised in the EU so I feel like it may be a while before people focus on it. I also agree with pea – it seems to be sneaking up everywhere.

  • I have 9 food allergies I just developed over the last few years. Some are common (peanuts, tree nuts, shrimp, sesame…) but others are less so (cherries, kiwi, cantaloupe). My two uncommon allergies that I have to convince and explain to people the most are apples and peppers. Lots of people find it hard to believe someone could be allergic to the ‘All American’ fruit favorite apples! It’s one I have to watch out for as it’s added in all types of baked goods and other products as both flavoring and filler. My hardest by far though is the peppers allergy. People seem to struggle with understanding that it means all types of peppers and all spices from them too: bell pepper, jalapeno, chili, cayenne, paprika (which is used as natural dye in everything from crackers to cheese!). It also means I have to be diligent with checking labels as anything that lists the ambiguous ‘spices’ is off the table unless I feel like calling the company and trying to figure out exactly what ‘spices’ means (which I never do because I haven’t seen any food worth all that trouble!). Ugh! Thank you so much for highlighting this issue and others affecting adults with food allergies. Living with them has certainly been a learning experience! 🙂

    • That darn ‘spices’ label. Whenever I meet a company I always tell them to just list the dang ingredients – I feel you! What’s interesting is that in Germany an apple allergy is something people are becoming more aware of because there has been a lot of media attention to it recently.

      It sounds like even though you have a lot of allergies you are looking at the silver lining 😀

  • I fully understand you.
    People don’t believe when I tell them that I’m allergic to ball peppers, chocolate and blueberries. They look at me like I’m an alien 👾.

  • As I was readying, I was thinking about all of my go-to allergy-friendly foods that have sunflowers seeds in them. SO MANY! It is so commonly used as a peanut substitute, I can imagine it can be very difficult to avoid.

    • The oil is what I find the most challenging, especially since people don’t believe I can react to it. I do see that some brands are starting to use alternatives like safflower.


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