Honey And Allergies

Date: 10th May 2020

Honey and honey dipper on a plateCan honey be used to treat allergies, and can honey cause allergic reactions?

In order to consider the role of honey in allergies we can consider two questions:

  • Is there a role for honey in treating allergies?;

    For example, is it possible to use honey directly on skin to treat allergies (that might occur through contact on the skin with something that causes an allergic response, or an allergic reaction that appears on the skin (such as a rash) due to something that is ingested.  Is it possible to use honey as a food to treat other allergies?

  • Is it possible to be allergic to honey?

    Can eating honey, or contact with honey and the skin, cause allergic reactions, and is a serious allergic reaction possible?

Honey and allergies:  cure / cause?

Use of honey to treat allergies  

The reason for considering that honey might be useful in treating allergies is primarily because because honey is known to have anti-inflammatory properties.  Elsewhere on this website I look at claims made for the use of honey in treating burns, cold sores, for acne, for wound care and for MRSA.

There are a number of small studies that suggest that use of honey might cause slight improvements in symptoms of eczema (Refs 1,2,3), but another study that showed honey to be not effective in treating eczema (Ref 4).  I am unable to find any studies that show a benefit of using honey as a food in order to treat allergic conditions.


honey comb on a plate


Can honey cause allergic reactions?

Allergic reaction to honey may be very rare, but it is potentially very serious when it occurs.  Additionally, as there has been growth in consumption of honey (perhaps due to the perception of honey as being very good for health) there may be potential for an increase in the number of cases of honey allergy reported in the future. 

 

Anaphylaxis and honey

There are a number of case reports of anaphylaxis (very serious allergic reactions that can be fatal) caused by honey.  For example, Fuiano et al (Ref 5) reported a case of a 19 year old female who had suffered from seasonal rhinitis for some years due to pollen from the Compositae / Asteraceae family of plants that includes daisies and sunflowers among others.  She developed severe allergy symptoms 10 minutes after eating bread and honey, leading to collapse and hospitalization. 

It appears that there was Compositae pollen in the honey, which was thought to be the cause of the patient’s severe symptoms.   

Aguiar (Ref 6) also reported a case of a serious reaction to the ingestion of honey in a patient who had had previous reactions after eating honey.  In this particular case the patient subsequently suffered an anaphylaxis after being exposed to the honey in a standard hospital allergy test!

Karakaya (Ref 7) and Kalyoncu (Ref 8) have also reported cases of honey allergy in Turkey (Interestingly, in history, toxic or ‘mad honey’ was used as an early form of chemical warfare). 


Allergy to other bee hive products

Katayama (Ref 9) reported a case of anaphylaxis after ingestion of royal jelly.

Why can honey cause allergic reactions?  

Honey contains a large number of components that come from the bees themselves (such as glandular secretions) as well as components that come from the foraging activities of bees (such as pollens).  It has been shown (Ref 10,11)) that bee secretions and pollen are the main components of honey that cause allergy.

Is honey suitable for babies?

Honey should not be given to infants under the age of 12 months old, due to the risk of infant botulism.

References:

1.      Henatsch D, Nabuurs CH, van de Goor RM, Wolffs PF, Stokroos RJ. Treatment of Recurrent Eczematous External Otitis with Honey Eardrops: A Proof-of-Concept Study. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017 Oct;157(4):696-699. doi: 10.1177/0194599817718782. Epub 2017 Jul 11. PubMed PMID: 28695767.

2.      Alangari, A.A., Morris, K., Lwaleed, B.A., Lau, L., Jones, K., Cooper, R. and Jenkins, R. (2017), Honey is potentially effective in the treatment of atopic dermatitis: Clinical and mechanistic studies. Immunity, Inflammation and Disease, 5: 190-199. doi:10.1002/iid3.153

3.      Al-Waili NS. Topical application of natural honey, beeswax and olive oil mixture for atopic dermatitis or psoriasis: partially controlled, single-blinded study. Complement Ther Med. 2003 Dec;11(4):226-34. PubMed PMID: 15022655

4.      Fingleton J, Helm C, Tofield C, Weatherall M, Beasley R. A randomised controlled trial of topical Kanuka honey for the treatment of eczema. JRSM Open. 2014;5(1):2042533313509263. Published 2014 Jan 7. doi:10.1177/2042533313509263 

5.      Fuiano N, Incorvaia C, Riario-Sforza GG, Casino G. Anaphylaxis to honey in pollinosis to mugwort: a case report. Eur Ann Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006 Dec; 38(10):364-5. PubMed PMID: 17274522.

6.      Aguiar R, Duarte FC, Mendes A, Bartolomé B, Barbosa MP.   Anaphylaxis caused by honey: a case report.   Asia Pac Allergy. 2017 Jan;7(1):48-50.   https://doi.org/10.5415/apallergy.2017.7.1.48.

7.      Karakaya G, Fuat Kalyoncu A. Honey allergy in adult allergy practice. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 1999 Sep-Oct;27(5):271-2. PubMed PMID: 10568878.

8.      Kalyoncu AF. Honey allergy and rhinitis in Ankara, Turkey. Allergy 1997;52:876–877.

9.      Katayama M, Aoki M, Kawana S. Case of anaphylaxis caused by ingestion of royal jelly. J Dermatol. 2008 Apr;35(4):222-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1346-8138.2008.00448.x. PubMed PMID: 18419679.

10.  Lombardi C, Senna GE, Gatti B, Feligioni M, Riva G, Bonadonna P, Dama AR, Canonica GW, Passalacqua G. Allergic reactions to honey and royal jelly and their relationship with sensitization to compositae. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 1998 Nov-Dec;26(6):288-90. PubMed PMID: 9934408.

11.  Bauer L, Kohlich A, Hirschwehr R, Siemann U, Ebner H, Scheiner O, Kraft D, Ebner C. Food allergy to honey: pollen or bee products? Characterization of allergenic proteins in honey by means of immunoblotting. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1996 Jan;97(1 Pt 1):65-73. PubMed PMID: 8568139.

 



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