Can you be allergic to tea? (3 Main causes)

In this brief guide, we will answer the question, can you be allergic to tea? We will discuss the compounds and ingredients of tea that you can be allergic to and some helpful ways to manage your allergy symptoms. 

Can you be allergic to tea?

Black tea, mostly consumed in western countries comprises 78% of all teas produced worldwide, where green tea, generally consumed in Asian countries comprises 20% and oolong tea mainly consumed in China comprises 2%. The annual white tea production is about 2.000 tons. This value is only 0.1% of black tea production. As much as 90% of white tea production is occurring in China (2).

You can be allergic to tea. Caffeine, tannins, and theanine are the main chemical substances in tea that can be potential allergens to you. However, it is reported that the type of allergy caused by tea components are rather due to inhalation than to ingestion. Respiratory allergies such as asthma are common among tea packing workers. Scientists suggest that catechins found in tea may cause asthma in sensitive individuals (3).

In fact, tea is known to relieve the symptoms of allergy, since it has anti-allergenic properties. The anti-allergic ability of tea is highly related with the compositions of catechins and flavonols, due to their predominant contents and physicochemical properties. Drinking tea with methylated catechins for a long term can significantly alleviate allergy symptoms, such as throat pain, nose-blowing and tears (4).

Caffeine is one of the culprits of causing an allergic reaction. An anaphylactic reaction can be triggered by caffeine as indicated by hives, swelling, and tingling or itching sensation of the face, mouth, lips, or throat. 

Only a few cases of caffeine-induced urticaria and/or anaphylaxis caused by caffeine have been reported till date, with varying outcomes in allergologic investigations. Moreover, several cases are probably undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as idiopathic urticaria or as occupational allergy. Therefore, it is possible that hypersensitivity to caffeine rather than autoimmune reaction (allergy) occurs (1).

An allergic reaction is caused when the body considers a substance to be foreign and triggers a response by producing antibodies. The severity of the allergic reaction can be variable, from acute to life-threatening. 

However, it is more likely for a person to be sensitive to tea than it is to be allergic. A person who is intolerant or sensitive to one or more ingredients in tea would experience less severe symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, heartburn, irritability, and heartburn. 

Allergies to both herbal and non-herbal teas are known. Any compound in tea can cause an allergic response. If you observe that a specific kind of tea or caffeinated beverage causes a reaction, it does not mean that you are indefinitely allergic to all types of tea.

However, if you are allergic to a compound that is universal to all caffeinated beverages or food, which includes caffeine, theanine, or tannin, then you cannot consume any type of tea. Not only tea, but you will also have to avoid coffee, soft drinks, and chocolate.  

What chemical compounds in tea can be a potential source of allergy?

While every kind of tea has caffeine, tannins, and theanine, each compound is present in varying levels in each type of tea.

 To elaborate, the highest caffeine is present in black tea, the highest tannins are in green tea. Theanine, on the other hand, prevails in higher concentration in white and green tea than black.

The most suspected form of allergy, related to tea consumption is caffeine-allergy. Certain case studies have reported that the human body can be allergic to caffeine and trigger a relevant response. 

After the anaphylactic reaction had occurred, it was confirmed that caffeine can trigger Ige in blood levels, hence, such a person would have to refrain from any caffeine source, especially black tea because it has the highest caffeine content (5). 

Tannins are the dominant compound in tea. Tannins are one of the phenolic compounds in tea that are present in the highest quantity in black tea. Other tea variants have a lower amount of tannins. According to studies, the low molecular weight of the tannin epigallocatechin gallate suggests that it is likely to act as a hapten, which needs to bind tissue proteins before causing an allergic response. The agents responsible for asthma among processors of teas have not yet been characterized. However, positive conjunctival provocation tests with camomile extract have been described in patients with hay fever and systemic allergic reactions (3).

Another important compound in tea is called theanine. Theanine is an amino acid that occurs as L-theanine or D-theanine. L-theanine mimics the effect caused by a natural protein called glutamate that helps in the transmission of nerve impulses. 

While allergies related to theanine are rare, there is a risk of theanine causing alarmingly low blood pressure. Moreover, theanine is more capable of causing sensitivity rather than allergy as indicated by headache, nausea, and allergy. 

However, theanine is also proven to act against allergic reactions. Besides polyphenols, polysaccharides and saponins, another bioactive compound in tea named theanine also has anti-allergic potential. Intragastric administration of L-theanine to OVA induced murine models of asthma will inhibit mucus production and inflammatory cell infiltration with significant decrease of IgE (4).

Can you be allergic to herbal tea?

An herbal tea allergy is also a probable cause of allergy. Herbal tea comes from different parts of a plant including roots, leaves, stems, and flowers. The compound that is unique to each type of herbal tea, can be a trigger for allergies. 

Herbal preparations can lead to hypersensitivity reactions. Reactions can vary from a transient dermatitis to anaphylactic shock. Royal jelly has been repeatedly linked with severe bronchospasm and the alleged aphrodisiac yohimbine has been associated with an allergic reaction culminating in a lupus-like syndrome. Other recent reports demonstrate the allergic potential of camphor and a mixture of lavender, jasmin, and rosewood used in the form of aromatherapy (7).

Some species of plant that can be a source of allergy for you are the Asteraceae (daisy) family and Malvaceae family. Chamomile tea comes from the Asteraceae (daisy) family. Some species of flowers from this family can be a cause of allergy including ragweed, daisies, marigolds, and chrysanthemums. Anaphylactic reactions caused by camomile are very rare, with only a few well documented reports (6).

Malvaceae family bears the Hibiscus plant that can also cause an allergy that you would associate with tea. Another variety includes hollyhocks.

How to manage your symptoms if you are allergic to tea?

If you are suspect that you are allergic to tea, you can try to manage your symptoms and experiment with tea to avoid triggering a response. Try to rotate your tea options from black, green, or white and figure out which works best for you.

If you suspect that you are allergic to caffeine, then try to go for a lighter roast of tea such as green and white. If you have a theanine allergy, steer clear of white and green tea. If you are allergic to a kind of herbal tea, then try a different variant or give up tea from a certain family of trees altogether. 

Other FAQs about Tea that you may be interested in.

How much does a gallon of tea weigh?

What is the difference between boba and bubble tea?

What is the best way to make tea with tea bags?

Can you water plants with tea?

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the question, can you be allergic to tea? We discussed the compounds and ingredients of tea that you can be allergic to and some helpful ways to manage your allergy symptoms. 

Citations

  1. Tognetti, Linda, Francesco Murdaca, and Michele Fimiani. Caffeine as a cause of urticaria-angioedema. In dermat on j, 2014, 5, S113.
  2. Sanlier, Nevin, İlker Atik, and Azize Atik. A minireview of effects of white tea consumption on diseases. Trend Food Sci Technol, 2018, 82, 82-88.
  3. Abramson, Michael J., et al. Respiratory disorders and allergies in tea packers. Occupat Med, 2001, 51, 259-265.
  4. Li, Qing-Sheng, et al. The anti-allergic potential of tea: a review of its components, mechanisms and risks. Food funct. 2021, 12, 57-69.
  5. Sugiyama, Kumiya, et al. Anaphylaxis due to caffeine. Asia Pacific Allergy, 2015, 5, 55-56.
  6. Andres, Christian, et al. Anaphylactic reaction to camomile tea. Allergol Int, 2009, 58, 135-136.
  7. Ernst, Edzard. Harmless herbs? A review of the recent literature. Am j med, 1998, 104, 170-178.