Did you Know you can be Allergic to Turkey?

Did you know you can be allergic to turkey?

a cooked turkey
Turkey allergy is a real thing!

Thanksgiving is always an interesting time.  You get to see family that you don’t usually see and it’s awesome.  You eat turkey, watch football, maybe enjoy a few drinks and it is still great.  Then you start to talk about politics or relationships or any other family matters/gossip… and it gets pretty damn miserable.  Which leads to more drinking and possibly a movie, which is great again!

At least that is how Thanksgiving goes for most of my friends.  Maybe yours is more normal.

But if you are in the cycle like me then you’ve probably come to find a brief escape.  And that’s exactly what this article is!

 

A few “starter” interesting facts

I bet you didn’t know these thanksgiving facts:

  • 91% of American’s eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day
  • In 1939-1941, President Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving Day to the third Thursday in November instead of the fourth.  He did this to lengthen shopping days.
    • This angered people… so it was changed back.
    • Although FDR would be proud of our ‘progress’ as a nation… since we now celebrate Christmas shopping 2 weeks before Halloween
  • A scared turkey can run at speeds of 20 miles per hour!
    • They can also burst into flight at speeds of 50-55 miles per hour!…
    • For a few seconds. Because that is helpful.
  • More than 40 million green bean casseroles are served on Thanksgiving.
    • Every one of those 40 million is ‘tolerated’…
    • Because who really likes green bean casserole?

 

But these are all ‘standard’ Thanksgiving facts.  You came here for some Thanksgiving ALLERGY facts, right?  (I’m sure that’s why you’re reading this, and not because you’re already bored of your extended family).

 

Did You Know Some People are Allergic to Turkey?

Turkey allergy is not common but is a real thing.  Most studies estimate that “poultry allergy” is present in about 3% of adults and children although it is not tracked very well.

Poultry allergy contains people who are allergic to chicken, turkey, duck and goose!

Turkey allergy itself is one of the more common poultry allergies, but the MOST common is a chicken allergy.

 

Symptoms of Turkey Allergy

The majority of food allergies present as anaphylaxis.  A turkey allergy might cause these symptoms but severe anaphylaxis symptoms are actually rare.   But I would not rely on this as anything other than a gee whiz fact because turkey allergy is uncommon and we don’t have good enough records to know for sure.

Turkey allergy symptoms are usually:

  • Itchy mouth
  • Scratchy throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal pain/diarrhea/vomiting/nausea
  • Hives (I wrote this article to help you if you have hives)
  • Actual swelling of the lips and tongue

 

Turkey Cross-Reactions

Now it will get a little more interesting!

Turkey vs. Chicken

If you have a turkey allergy, it is very likely that you also have a chicken allergy!  These two are highly cross-reactive so the general recommendation is to avoid both of these two foods if you are allergic to one.

Turkey vs Duck or Goose

Surprisingly, if you are allergic to turkey you ARE NOT likely to be allergic to duck or goose.  These two poultry are not very cross-reactive with turkey.  What this means is that if you are allergic to turkey, your new Thanksgiving meal is probably roasted duck!

Turkey vs Fish and Shellfish

OK, this is a piece of trivia that I would be willing to bet most allergists don’t know (and I have a lot who read my posts so I’m happy to share this information).

If you are allergic to turkey or chicken, there is a 60% chance you are also allergic to fish and 40% chance you are also allergic to shellfish!

For my allergy friends:  If you have a turkey allergy then you should be checked for a possible fish allergy (in 60% of people) or a shellfish allergy (in 40% of people).  We are not sure why these are cross-reactive.  Both turkey and fish/shellfish have a similar protein called alpha-parvalbumin but this is NOT the cause of cross-reactivity.  Most recent research suggests that it is a myosin light chain that might be the link!

Turkey vs Bacon

No problems here!  So combine these two all you want!

cooked turkey with bacon
Turkey + bacon = something to TRULY be thankful for

 

What about eggs?

Most people with turkey allergy will need to avoid chicken but are usually OK eating eggs.

However, there is a syndrome called Bird-Egg syndrome where someone is allergic to chicken meat (and would likely be allergic to turkey due to cross reaction) and also have an allergy to chicken feathers as well as chicken eggs.

In Bird-Egg syndrome, you are most likely sensitized to something in the chicken feathers/droppings and not primarily through the meat itself.

 

What do you Do?

A pretty cool article so far, isn’t it?  You learned about poultry allergy, about cross reactions with chicken, fish and shellfish and that duck and goose are usually OK!  So exciting (at least a nice 5-minute escape from your family) right?  So now, we can we do about turkey allergy?

Avoid turkey.

As with most food allergies, there is nothing that we can currently do to treat food allergies.  So this part is kind of a letdown.  But we’d need to prescribe epinephrine, and I have a good series of posts on that medication starting here!

 

Message to my Brother-in-Law and my Best Friend

This post is just about finished.  Soon you’ll need to get back to your family and any family drama at your house.  But if you want, I can help by introducing you to some of MY family’s drama:

My brother-in-law and my best friend have decided that nobody likes turkey and have been pushing to boycott turkey dinner.  They are the ‘new hipsters’ of thanksgiving and want to start a new trend.  They claim that nobody really likes turkey and cite the worst cooked, dryest, most bland turkey and compare it against the best dry-aged perfectly cooked steak.  It’s probably going to be a source of fighting in our house worse than politics this year!

 

My wife and I always try to support our friends and family with food allergies and food aversions.  In order to help my new thanksgiving hipsters, this year we are making them pizza rolls and quesadillas (not the good quesadillas with a slight crisp to them… definitely soggy ones).

picture of soggy pizza rolls
There are a time and place for these. But not Thanksgiving!

Sources:

  1. Hemmer W, Klug C, Swoboda I.  Update on the bird-egg syndrome and genuine poultry meat allergy.  Allegra J Int 2016;25:68-75.
  2. The interesting thanksgiving facts above can be found at this todayifoundout article

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