Citric acid intolerance is a low form of food allergy, and is not common. For those who have this intolerance it is difficult to shop or eat out because of their need to be on constant watch for products which may cause an outbreak. For this reason many people with food allergies, including those with citric acid intolerance, learn to cook and the value of nutrition from specific foods.
Citric acid is a preservative which is used in a variety of products from sauces to cough syrups. Citric acid can be found naturally in lemons, grapefruits and oranges. Citric acid intolerance is the body's inability to digest citric acid. When this occurs, symptoms similar to other food allergies can occur within minutes.
Symptoms of citric acid intolerance can include skin problems such as dryness, itching, crusting skin, scabbed skin or skin rash. The rash will look red and blotchy and usually be raised behind joints. There may be darkness under the eyes. Abdominal issues can include nausea, vomiting and pain. Stomach symptoms can include pain and bloating. In severe cases, hives and anaphyaxis can occur. This is a life threatening condition which requires epinephrine to be administered immediately. This is similar to what occurs for bee stings.
The causes of symptoms related to citric acid intolerance are related to the immune system being unable to recognize the proteins from citrus fruit as healthy. This causes the immune system to release histamine to attack the protein which then causes the allergic or intolerable reaction.
Allergy vs. Intolerance
A citric allergy and a citric intolerance are different in their reaction. Allergies occur immediately after digesting citric acid. Intolerance can occur more slowly but has the same symptoms. An allergy only requires a small amount of citric acid while a citric intolerance is based on how much is ingested. A doctor specializing in allergies can determine which you have.
The best way to avoid an attack from citric acid intolerance is to simply avoid citric acid. This is best done by reading labels and ingredients when shopping or eating out. Cross contamination can occur in fruit cocktails or other foods which have fruit flavoring such as hams or sauces. Persons with a citric acid intolerance must always carry epinephrine with them in the event they come into contact with a product containing citric acid.