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Can You Die From Smelling Fish Fumes?

In January of 2019, a tragic case made headlines: an 11-year-old boy died after smelling fish fumes. The story, according to The Washington Post, goes as follows: the boy had an allergy to seafood, as well as asthma, and when he arrived at his grandmother’s home, codfish had been cooking on the stove. He started to wheeze, and eventually died because his nebulizer machine was not working.

It’s an awful story, but it can also serve as an educational one because few people would realize that fish fumes can trigger seafood allergies. Adela Taylor, of the allergy and asthma center at Mayo Clinic Health System, said that individuals could “have an allergic reaction to steam or fumes produced by cooking seafood.” The reason being that the proteins responsible for the allergy are “stable” when cooking and can be detected.

ABC News notes that allergens can get into the body in a number of different ways, and this includes inhaling them. The publication also notes that allergic reactions don't typically happen by smell unless the food’s odor is produced by proteins.

To have a reaction, you have to be exposed to food proteins, so, for example, it cannot happen if someone with a peanut allergy was to smell peanut butter.

Allergic reactions are different for every person and can range from mild to rare, while it may be possible to have a reaction to fish fumes, these reactions are not common, Global News reports. “It’s a very rare case,” associate professor Dr. Moshe Ben-Shoshan, in the division of allergy, immunology, and dermatology at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, told the publication. “It highlights the risk, but we need to remember that most accidental reactions occur by ingestion more than by inhalation.”

So, should people with seafood allergies avoid places where fish is being cooked or processed? The simple answer is yes. Plus, those who have severe allergies should carry epinephrine, Global News notes.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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