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Shrimp allergy symptoms explained

Medically reviewed on June 16, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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In 2004, Congress passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, which listed eight common foods as the most prominent food allergens [1]. Unofficially known as “The Big 8,” this list includes foods like peanuts, dairy, and eggs. But among the most prominent of this rarefied group are shrimp and other shellfish.

Shrimp and shellfish allergies affect a reported 2% of the U.S. population, making them the most common food allergy [2]. But what are the symptoms of a shrimp allergy? And what can you do to prevent an attack?

This guide has everything you need to know, whether you’re looking for information on how to manage your shrimp allergy or are interested in common shrimp allergy symptoms. We’ll also go over what foods you should avoid to prevent shrimp allergy symptoms and what to do if you’re exposed. Keep reading to find out.

7 shrimp allergy symptoms to look out for

Shrimp allergies are a kind of shellfish allergy. There are two different categories of shellfish:

  • Crustaceans – Crustaceans are land and water animals that have segmented bodies and feature tough shells [3]. They include shrimp, prawns, crabs, lobsters, and crayfish.
  • Mollusks – Unlike crustaceans, mollusks are soft-bodied invertebrates [4]. Snails, scallops, oysters, clams, and squid are all mollusks.

Essentially, when you have a shrimp allergy, your body overreacts to the presence of a specific protein found in shrimp. Your body interprets this protein as a threat and in defense, it produces antibodies, histamines, and other chemicals that cause shrimp allergy symptoms [5].

In most cases, adverse reactions to food sensitivities will start to appear almost immediately, although it can take up to a few hours before you start to experience symptoms [6]. In some patients with severe allergies, simply touching shellfish or being near one can cause an allergic reaction to occur.

To that end, here are nine signs of an allergic reaction to shrimp.

1. Itching

Itching is a common shrimp allergy symptom. Itching may be present in rashes that spread across the skin. In some cases, people suffering from shrimp allergy symptoms may experience itching at other sites, including [7]:

  • Skin
  • Eyes
  • Mouth

2. Hives

Hives are another common shrimp allergy symptom. They appear itchy red welts of varying sizes all over the skin. Throughout the course of an allergic reaction, hives can fade and reappear again [8].

As a condition, hives can come with symptoms of their own beyond the welts. For example, when you have an outbreak of hives, you may also experience severe, painful swelling of your:

  • Lips
  • Eyes
  • Throat

3. Eczema

Eczema is a dermatological condition also known as atopic dermatitis [9]. It’s characterized by brownish-gray patches of dry skin and severe itching. Frequently, these patches appear on the hands, feet, ankles, wrists, chest, and inside elbows and knees.

Rashes caused by eczema can also feature [9]:

  • Small, fluid-fill bumps
  • Cracked and scaly skin
  • Thickened skin

4. Oral tingling and swelling

Frequently, shrimp allergy symptoms can include oral tingling and swelling [6]. This tingling and swelling can be localized to specific sections of your oral area, or they may be more widespread. They can include tingling and/or swelling of:

  • The lips
  • The tongue
  • The throat

5. Respiratory issues and chest tightness

Shrimp allergy symptoms can manifest as a range of respiratory issues that can become very serious. This can include issues such as:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing

You may also notice a persistent tightening in your chest.

6. Dizziness and fainting

If you’re exhibiting shrimp allergy symptoms, you may become faint or experience feelings of dizziness. These symptoms pose serious risks because they could result in falls and/or serious injuries.

Additionally, shrimp allergy symptoms can include:

  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Slowed pulse rate
  • Loss of consciousness

7. Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a common severe allergic reaction to shrimp and shellfish allergens as well as other kinds of food allergies. It can become life-threatening if not immediately dealt with. During anaphylaxis, breathing becomes difficult because the air passages begin to narrow, letting little air through. A significant drop in blood pressure is another characteristic of anaphylaxis.

Signs of anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock include:

  • A weak but rapid pulse
  • Skin rashes
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Who can develop a shrimp allergy?

A shrimp allergy is a non-discriminating condition, meaning anyone can develop it. But unlike some allergies that are more common among young children, shrimp allergies tend to plague older adults in greater numbers.

In fact, of the almost six million people who have a shrimp or shellfish allergy, more than half of them—60%—developed it as an adult [6].

What foods should I avoid if I have a shrimp allergy?

Preventing shrimp allergy symptoms begins with avoiding foods that contain the protein that sends the body into a reaction. For most people with shrimp allergies, this usually means avoiding not only shrimp but also most kinds of shellfish. Some people eventually develop another type of seafood allergy throughout the years.


Shrimp are a type of crustacean, so if you have a shrimp allergy, it’s a good idea to avoid eating anything from the crustacean family. In addition to shrimp, that means excluding the following foods from the diet [6]:

  • Crab
  • Crawfish and crayfish
  • Lobster
  • Prawns


Because a shrimp allergy is a kind of shellfish allergy, people with shrimp allergies should avoid all kinds of shellfish, not just crustaceans. For anyone who hopes to avoid shrimp allergy symptoms, eliminating mollusks from the diet may be necessary. Types of mollusks include:

  • Clams
  • Octopus
  • Scallops
  • Snails
  • Squid [6]

Other types of seafood

Depending on the extent and severity of an allergy, there are many other kinds of seafood that people with shrimp allergies might want to avoid. Among these are conch, cockle, and abalone [6].

In addition to avoiding obvious allergens like shellfish and other seafood, it’s important to read the food label on the packaging of any food you consume, especially if you don’t know whether the food might contain shrimp or shellfish.

Fortunately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has strict labeling requirements when it comes to food and the allergens they contain [6]. Allergy information should appear on the label either just before or after the list of ingredients, so be sure to check.

How are shrimp allergies diagnosed?

It’s believed that one of the reasons shrimp allergies are more frequently diagnosed in adults than in children is because children are less likely to encounter shellfish, in most cases. That means that you may have always had a shellfish allergy—you just didn’t realize it until you grew up and started eating shellfish.

That said, food allergy symptoms can progress quickly, so if you suspect that you may have a shrimp allergy, you should speak to your healthcare provider about it right away. Your healthcare provider will consult with you to determine the best strategy for diagnosing your allergy. This may include asking questions about your medical history, any symptoms you’ve experienced, and questions about your dietary intake, particularly about shellfish and shrimp.

In many cases, diagnosing a shrimp allergy will also mean submitting to a common food allergy test. Standard methods for testing for shrimp and shellfish allergies are as follows:

  • Blood test – When you have a shrimp allergy, your body produces a specific antibody known as immunoglobulin E (IgE) to combat the shrimp proteins that have entered your system. In diagnosing a shrimp allergy, healthcare providers can test blood samples for the presence of this antibody [10].
  • Skin test – Another method for diagnosing shellfish allergies are skin tests which involve pricking the skin and applying a liquid form of the shellfish protein that causes allergic reactions. In people who are allergic, a hive usually appears at the site of injection.

What to do if you’re experiencing shrimp allergy symptoms

Although it’s important to remain as diligent as possible about not consuming shrimp and shellfish if you have an allergy, it’s only wise to know what to do if you ingest food that leads to an attack.

When combating shrimp allergy symptoms, allergy sufferers should always have an easily injectable epinephrine pen handy. Epinephrine is a strong, prescription-only adrenaline that helps lessen some allergy symptoms, including anaphylaxis [6]. Epinephrine may be useful during mild and severe allergy attacks.

Additionally, your healthcare may provide you with other medicines that can help ease shrimp allergy symptoms [6]. Frequently, such medication includes:

  • Antihistamines
  • Corticosteroids

Food allergy testing with Everlywell

You can check for potential food allergies from the convenience of home with the Everlywell Food Allergy Test. This test measures IgE antibody reactivity to common food allergens, including shrimp. Increased reactivity may be associated with a food allergy.

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1. Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. Food and Drug Administration. URL. Accessed June 16, 2022.

2. Shellfish. Food Allergy Research & Education. URL. Accessed June 16, 2022.

3. Crustacean. Britannica. URL. Accessed June 16, 2022.

4. Mollusk. Britannica. URL. Accessed June 16, 2022.

5. Shellfish Allergy – Symptoms and Causes. May Clinic. URL. Accessed June 16, 2022.

6. Shellfish Allergies: Symptoms, Food Allergy Testing, Epinephrine. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed June 16, 2022.

7. Food Allergy – Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed June 16, 2022.

8. Chronic Hives. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed June 16, 2022.

9. Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema). Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed June 16, 2022.

10. Shellfish Allergy – Diagnosis and Treatment. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed June 16, 2022.

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