Can I Be Allergic to Mustard

What Is Mustard Pollen Allergy?

Mustard pollen allergy (MPO) is a common food allergy affecting individuals from all age groups. MPO occurs when someone develops allergic symptoms after eating certain foods containing mustard oil or other components of the plant known as mustard grass. These include: mustard seeds; mustard leaves; and/or mustard flowers.

How Do People Get MPO?

The exact cause of MPO is unknown. However, it may occur due to exposure to molds, bacteria, viruses or parasites. Molds are microscopic organisms that live in soil and plants. They produce toxins called mycotoxins which can affect humans if ingested through contaminated food or water. Mycotoxins are found naturally in many types of fungi and mold species such as those found in mustard grasses.

Bacteria are another possible cause of MPO. Bacterial contamination can result from contact with contaminated soil, animal feces, or even sewage sludge. Infection with bacteria can lead to gastrointestinal problems including diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal cramps.

Symptoms may last up to several days.

Viruses are another potential cause of MPO. Viral infections include cold sores, chicken pox and measles virus infection among others. Viruses can be spread through the air (as is the case for respiratory viruses), through contact with saliva, or by eating contaminated food or water.

Viruses invade the body and produce disease by infecting cells and altering their genetic make-up. This causes the cell to divide excessively and produce more viruses which go on to infect other cells.

Parasites are another potential cause of MPO. They are single-celled living organisms and include species such as worms, protozoans and other organisms. The parasite attaches to the body and feeds on human tissue, sucking out vital nutrients from the cells.

Those with a higher resistance may experience mild symptoms while others may have life-threatening complications. In some cases, the parasite may go completely undetected without testing.

What Are the Symptoms of an MPO Allergy?

Some of the most common symptoms of an MPO allergy include:

Swelling of lips, face or eyes

Stomach pain and cramps

Nausea and vomiting


Abdominal pain


Difficulty breathing

Runny nose

Red eyes

Swelling of the tongue and throat causing difficulty swallowing and/or breathing

Skin rashes, hives or itchiness

Low blood pressure causing dizziness and lightheadedness

Tiredness and fatigue

How Is an MPO Allergy Diagnosed?

It is very important to see a physician or allergist to confirm any allergy and perform the relevant tests. A skin test involves the application of small amounts of common allergens to the skin, such as pollen or food extracts, to observe any reaction. If an allergic reaction occurs, this means the patient is allergic to the substance in question. A blood serum test measures the amount of specific IgE antibodies present against a certain allergen or combination of allergens.

A radioallergosorbent test (RAST) is similar to a skin prick test, however, a small amount of radioactive substance is used which allows doctors to measure the allergen-specific IgE antibodies in the blood. The radioactive markers attached to the allergen allow doctors to identify exactly which allergens are causing a reaction.

Despite these tests, some allergens cannot be identified exactly and a combination of different tests needs to be performed.

How to Manage an MPO Allergy

The only way to manage an allergy is to avoid whatever causes the reaction. In the case of most food allergies such as peanuts and shellfish, patients should carry an injectable dose of epinephrine at all times in case of a severe allergic reaction.

Some patients may receive immunotherapy which involves receiving gradually increasing amounts of the allergen to build up a tolerance against it. This involves an injection or an inhaler that contains minute amounts of the substance on a daily basis.

New advances in biotechnology are also being made to produce hypoallergenic foods using genetic engineering. The idea is to transfer the genes of other organisms which do not cause allergic reactions into foods prone to causing them such as peanuts, cows milk and shrimp.

These methods are still in development, but they offer a potential long-term solution to common food allergies.

In the meantime, it is better to consult your doctor immediately if you notice any of the above symptoms to confirm your suspicions and start management right away.

Sources & references used in this article:

Mustard allergy in children by F Rance, G Dutau, M Abbal M – Allergy, 2000 – Wiley Online Library

Prospective study of mustard allergy: first study with double‐blind placebo‐controlled food challenge trials (24 cases) by M Morisset, DA Moneret‐Vautrin, F Maadi, S Fremont… – Allergy, 2003 – Wiley Online Library

Mustard allergy confirmed by double‐blind placebo‐controlled food challenges: clinical features and cross‐reactivity with mugwort pollen and plant‐derived foods by J Figueroa, C Blanco, AG Dumpierrez, L Almeida… – Allergy, 2005 – Wiley Online Library

Sandwich enzyme‐linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for detection of mustard in foods by PW Lee, SL Hefle, SL Taylor – Journal of food science, 2008 – Wiley Online Library

Analysis of the structural and immunological stability of 2S albumin, nonspecific lipid transfer protein, and profilin allergens from mustard seeds by S Sirvent, O Palomares, J Cuesta-Herranz… – Journal of agricultural …, 2012 – ACS Publications

nsLTP and profilin are allergens in mustard seeds: cloning, sequencing and recombinant production of Sin a 3 and Sin a 4 by S Sirvent, O Palomares, A Vereda… – Clinical & …, 2009 – Wiley Online Library

Allergenicity assessment of transgenic mustard (Brassica juncea) expressing bacterial codA gene by AK Singh, AK Mehta, S Sridhara, SN Gaur, BP Singh… – Allergy, 2006 – Wiley Online Library