Mint allergy is one of the most common food allergies. There are many types of mints, but they all have similar chemical composition. They contain menthol (a cooling agent), alcohol, and other chemicals. These chemicals cause symptoms when inhaled or ingested into the body. Some mints may cause only short term effects such as sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes; others may cause severe reactions like asthma attacks or even death if consumed in large amounts.
The severity of these reactions varies from person to person. Milder cases are easily treated with over-the-counter medications, while more severe cases require medical attention. A mint allergy can develop at any age, but it’s most likely to occur during childhood. If left untreated, a mint allergy can lead to breathing difficulties and even death.
What Is Mint?
Mint is a plant native to Europe and Asia. It grows in moist soil and prefers full sun. Its leaves are green, oblong, and oval shaped. The flowers are white or pinkish purple and grow on long stalks up to three feet tall.
When mint plants bloom, they release fragrant oils that give them their distinctive scent. Today, these plants are cultivated for their oils, the leaves of the plant, and their medicinal purposes.
Mint plants have many uses. For example, the ancient Egyptians used the leaves of the plant to embalm their dead. In addition, it was used as a flavoring agent during the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Today, it is used to flavor a variety of products such as toothpaste, mouthwash, candy, gum, and cigarettes.
There are several types of mint. Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is the most common species. It has been cultivated since the seventeenth century. Spearmint (Mentha viridis) and water mint (Mentha aquatica) are other common varieties that grow wild in many parts of the world.
Mint plants are known by various names including lambstongue, chef’s joy, bridewort, and noseburn. In some parts of the world, it is called “hoary fox” because its leaves resemble the gray fur of a red fox.
The volatile oils found in mint leaves give it its distinct smell and flavor. While most people enjoy its taste and fragrance, some may be allergic to it.
Mint Allergy Symptoms
Some people experience allergic reactions to mint and its products. In some cases, symptoms are mild and disappear quickly after consumption; in others, they are severe and require immediate medical attention.
Since a mint allergy is often associated with other allergies, symptoms may be mild at first and get worse over time.
Itchy, watery eyes
Slight swelling of the lips and tongue
Burning sensation in the mouth and throat upon consumption
Swollen, itchy tongue
Wheezing and coughing
Hoarseness in the throat and loss of voice
Vomiting and nausea
Stomach pain and cramps
Chills and fever above 101 degrees
Hives or skin rash
Tightening of the throat or difficulty breathing
Difficulty breathing, especially when consumed in high amounts
Increased sensitivity to external stimuli such as light, sounds, and touch
Moderate to Severe Symptoms:
Any of the above symptoms combined with redness and watery discharge from the eyes that lasts for more than 48 hours
Any of the above symptoms combined with difficulty speaking and/or hoarseness in the voice that lasts for more than 48 hours
Any of the above symptoms combined with wheezing, shortness of breath, and tightness of the chest that is not relieved by over-the-counter asthma medication
Skin rash or hives accompanied by any of the above symptoms
Difficulty swallowing and breathing that leads to a feeling of tightness in the throat and chest accompanied by wheezing, a whistling sound when breathing out (stridor), sweating, and a fast heart rate
Difficulty breathing that does not respond to asthma medication and is associated with blue coloring of the lips, fingernails, and tips of the ears; also swelling of the tongue
Any difficulty breathing or tightening of the throat accompanied by high fever, headache, and a stiff neck
Stomach pain accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea that leads to dehydration
Any of the above symptoms combined with a fever higher than 103 degrees
How to Treat a Mint Allergy
If you experience mild allergic reactions after consuming mint, take some anti-histamines such as Benadryl. If you suffer from more severe reactions such as difficulty breathing or swallowing, seek immediate medical attention.
If you are diagnosed with a mint allergy, avoid mint and any of its products completely.
Where to Find It
While some people may experience allergic reactions after eating mint, most people can eat it without problems. In fact, some cultures enjoy drinking tea made from mint leaves or adding it to dishes for flavor.
Mint is most commonly used in herbal tea, but you might be surprised to learn that it is also found in many of the foods you eat and the beverages you drink. Some of these include:
Breathe Right strips
Mentholatum ointment and liniments such as Campho-Phenique, which contains camphor and menthol oils.
Medicines such as NyQuil and Ricola cough drops
Mint toothpaste and mouthwash
Listerine for Fresh Breath mouthwash
Some types of artificial smoke flavoring, dry ice, and fire extinguishers
Menthol cigarettes, NyQuil, and some other medicines contain a substance called isopulegol, which can cause diarrhea if consumed in large amounts.
Mentholatum ointment and Campho-Phenique contain camphor, which can depress the central nervous system when ingested in large amounts.
The chemical used in most artificial smoke flavorings is furfuryl alcohol, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea if consumed in large amounts.
Some types of dry ice contain propane and butane gasses, which can cause asphyxiation if inhaled in a confined area. Large amounts of dry ice can also cause burns.
Fire extinguishers containing carbon dioxide can cause respiratory distress and cardiac problems if sprayed directly on a person.
Laxatives can cause diarrhea, nausea, and dehydration when over-consumed.
Listerine® for Fresh Breath mouthwash contains eucalyptol, which can cause nausea, vomiting, central nervous system depression, respiratory failure, and cardiac or respiratory arrest when ingested in large amounts. It can also irritate the skin.
Some mints contain sugar, which may worsen symptoms in people with diabetes.
Mint is also found in certain types of plants, such as the pineapple weed plant, whose leaves contain oil of spearmint and peppermint. If you are allergic to mint, you should avoid this plant.
Most people know to steer clear of the weeds in their yard, but many don’t think twice about the plants they keep indoors. Most indoor plants are not a problem for people with allergies, but if you suffer from a mint allergy, it might be best to avoid those that contain mint. Several types of mint plants, such as the money plant and the lamb’s ear plant, are common houseplants.
Sources & references used in this article:
Allergic reaction to mint leads to asthma by AM Szema, T Barnett – Allergy & rhinology, 2011 – journals.sagepub.com
Breathing space: how allergies shape our lives and landscapes by MK Robinson, PA Horn, TT Kawabata, LS Babcock… – Toxicological …, 1998 – Elsevier
Cinnamon spice and everything not nice: many features of intraoral allergy to cinnamic aldehyde by G Mitman – 2008 – books.google.com
Assessment of the respiratory sensitization potential of proteins using an enhanced mouse intranasal test (MINT) by M Isaac-Renton, MK Li, LM Parsons – Dermatitis, 2015 – journals.lww.com
The Food Allergy Cure: A New Solution to Food Cravings, Obesity, Depression, Headaches, Arthritis, and Fatigue by SM Krieger, DR Boverhof, MR Woolhiser… – Food and chemical …, 2013 – Elsevier
The peanut allergy answer book by E Cutler – 2010 – books.google.com
Th1/Th2 balance: A natural therapeutic approach to Th2 polarization in allergy by MC Young – 2013 – books.google.com