Can a person be allergic to coffee or caffeine?

We love our coffee! Approximately 1.4 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every day. The coffee we drink is rich in anti-oxidants and may have positive health effects. But, can coffee cause allergic reactions?

Allergic reactions to coffee typically occur in workers handling green coffee beans and inhaling the dust leading to work-related asthma. There have been some workers who also had allergy to roasted coffee beans suggesting allergenic proteins survive the roasting process. In 2012, Cof a 1 was identified as the important protein responsible for allergic reactions to coffee beans.

While the vast majority of reactions are during coffee bean processing before roasting, there are rare published reports of individuals who had allergic reactions after consuming coffee. In 1993, an adult in France had 2 severe anaphylactic reactions with cardiac arrest after drinking coffee and using a beta-blocker eye drop. He was sensitive to both coffee bean and gum Arabic. In 1983, in Germany, a woman had an anaphylactic reaction and hives and was found to be allergic to coffee and several medications.

Is the caffeine in coffee the problem?

In 2003, a patient in Spain experienced anaphylaxis related to caffeine. In 1996, another patient from Spain experienced recurrent fever, chills, and headaches after ingesting caffeinated beverages since she was young. Blinded oral challenge with caffeine reproduced the symptoms (she didn’t know she was getting caffeine!) Again in Spain in 1993, a 10 year-old child developed hives after drinking cola or coffee. Allergy skin test to caffeine and challenge test (drinking coffee) reproduced the hives. Why is this only happening in Spain?

Is caffeine good for people with asthma?

Caffeine has a variety of drug-like effects; it is a weak bronchodilator (relaxes the muscles that constrict the airways in asthma) and it reduces respiratory muscle fatigue. It is chemically related to the drug theophylline which is used to treat asthma. Caffeine appears to improve airways function modestly, for up to 4 hours, in people with asthma.

Fortunately coffee allergy and allergic reactions to caffeine are extremely rare. If you suspect a food or beverage allergy, contact us, we can help. At Family Allergy Asthma & Sinus Care, we enjoy our java!