Fish Allergy Facts: Why I Can Eat Tuna Without Dying (According to My German Wife, Who Is Not a Doctor)

fish-allergy-tuna-school-sea
“Filthy, slimy, angels of the sea.” — Image Credit: TheAnimalDay.org (https://www.flickr.com/photos/theanimalday/) — Subject to CC 2.0 License.

I was born with a pretty wicked allergy to fish. My parents first discovered it at Disneyland when I was just a little kid; we were tossing chunks of fish to the dolphins and the juices ran down my hands and arms, causing redness and swelling, which earned me a hasty trip to the emergency room. “Oooh, look Mom! Flashing red lights and a siren! This is WAY better than Pirates of the Caribbean!”

Since then I’ve avoided fish as if my life depended on it, because… it kinda does. Salmon, halibut, cod, catfish, herring, anchovies, trout… all of them cause a rapid allergic reaction when they touch my skin — especially my lips or the inside of my mouth. And the sensation is truly unpleasant, like swelling, throbbing, burning, itching and aching all wrapped up into one perfect pain. Like it was designed specifically by God himself to punish me for being a naughty 8-year-old boy who should have known better than to burn all those tiny little ants with a magnifying glass.

swollen-fat-lip-allergic-reaction
“… so that you may know the anguish you have inflicted.” — Image Credit: Kate Brady (https://www.flickr.com/photos/cliche/) — Subject to CC 2.0 License

But the real danger would be if I ever ingested enough fish to cause my entire body to freak out and my windpipe to swell shut. That’s called anaphylaxis, and I don’t know about you, but I think it sounds like just a barrel of laughs. Luckily, I could never really consume enough to cause such a reaction unless I decided to chug a glass of fish juice or swallow a fistful of fish oil capsules. And that wouldn’t be an accident at all; that would be suicide.

Oh sure, I’ve flirted with fish a few times over the years. You know, just to see if I was still allergic. Like, at a friend’s house, I once touched half a fish stick to my lip only to spend the remainder of the evening looking like a 5th grader with the world’s most aggressive case of oral herpes. And then one time, during a work meeting in the mid-2000s, my entire office went out to lunch at a Japanese restaurant. We all ordered miso soup, and I’d never had a problem with it in the past, but this time it was made with real fish broth. It tasted so good I drank that shit right from the bowl, and about one minute later, my upper lip swelled up and stuck out so far I looked like a Simpsons character.

Planked Alaskan salmon and asparagus
“Planked Alaskan succubus with asparagus.” — Image Credit: Jessica Spengler (https://www.flickr.com/photos/wordridden/) — Subject to CC 2.0 License

To this day, I really don’t know what fish even tastes like — especially salmon. That stuff looks delicious, but it’s supposed to cause the most intense reaction of them all, so I leave that sexy bitch alone. The one kind of fish I can eat, however, is tuna.

I was about 25 years old when I discovered tuna didn’t mess with me. It happened by accident: One day, I thought I was holding a chicken salad sandwich, but when I bit down, it turned out to be tuna fish, and oh… my… CHRIST was it delicious! That weirdo tuna meat all mixed up with relish and mayonnaise? I was in heaven! It was like discovering a whole new set of taste buds! Crazy taste buds — and they were having a freaky bondage sex party right inside my mouth! And later I discovered I can even eat raw tuna, like at a sushi restaurant! (But if it bumps up against my wife’s sashimi salmon, the party’s over and I’m headed straight back to Fucksville.)

tuna-fish-sandwich-photography
“You beautiful creature… where have you been all my life? Oh. Literally RIGHT in front of my eyes.” — Image Credit: thebittenword.com (https://www.flickr.com/photos/galant/) — Subject to CC 2.0 License

So I’ve been a pretty zealous tuna lover ever since. Wouldn’t you be, after avoiding a delicious type of food over two thirds of your life? Now, I make sure and buy at least three cans of tuna every time I go to the grocery store. It makes an awesome snack, especially if I’m in a hurry. That’s why, the other day when I sat down next to my German wife on the couch to start a movie, I confessed to her I’d just eaten an entire can in like 30 seconds. She laughed and said it’s weird that I can eat tuna but no other fish. Then she went on to speculate as to the reason, saying:

“Maybe tuna is not really a fish. Maybe it’s a water chicken.”

 


 

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19 thoughts

  1. I really wonder about this! There may be a few other fish that you okay to eat as well, since more of the canned tuna meals are not completely tuna. I know that Chicken of the Sea uses a couple different kinds of cheaper fish, mixed with the tuna. Have you spoken with an allergist about it? It sounds like a really fun adventure, nonetheless.

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  2. You would fight a hard fight against my two cats to eat tuna in my house … the cats are all over a person holding a tin of tuna in their hands. And make it entirely clear that eating tuna means to share! Hail to my feline overlords.

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  3. Isn’t there a brand of canned tuna that is called “Chicken of the Sea” or something like that? I searched for it while typing this out and yes, yes there is.

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  4. Now it becomes clear: your beloved wife doesn’t teach Biology! :-)
    Maybe this canned tuna stuff have not only lost taste and nutrients, but also their allergens.
    Here are some references for many contemplative evenings:
    # Kelso et al: Allergy to canned tuna: J Allergy Clin Immunol. 111, 901(2003)
    # Stell: Trouble with tuna: two cases of scrombotoxin poisoning. J Accid Emerg Med 14, 110-117 (1997)
    # Lim et al: Missing parvalbumin: Implications in diagnostic testing for tuna allergy. Jf Allergy Clin Immunol 115, 874-875 (2005)
    # Schaper et al: Fischvergiftung. Dtsch Ärzteblatt 99, 1151-1158 (Heft 17) (2002)
    Arise, take up thy carp, and walk!

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      1. Hmmm…
        Read the books!
        Or … maybe it’s the soy sauce? (Naturally brewed) soy sauce eliminates the evil allergens!
        Make a field test: Eat Rollmöpse (rolled pickled herring) with
        a) no soy sauce; b) with some dashes and c) with a soup-spoon of soy sauce
        Eat with fingers, fork or chopsticks and repeat the experiment with maties, eel and sea mussels.
        Note down the results carefully, then write a book like “Fish allergy as a function of monosodium glutamate in the reflection of European an American history with simultaneous consideration of social- erotic whatnots”.

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  5. There must be something different about tuna. Something that makes it different from all other fish. I think tuna flesh is very “meaty”, not at all like that of any other fish I know. I once had a piece of shark when I was in Asia, and it tasted like tuna. So maybe you could eat sharkfish, too, but admittedly, they’re rare in the North Sea. (But so are tuna.)

    I’m sorry you’ll never find out how REAL fish tastes (and I don’t mean trout, I mean those animals from the salty waters of some ocean), but on the other hand: I have allergies, too, and must be careful about what I eat, especially with cheese. I’d love that cheese with the blue mold so much, but the second bite will get me to the ER. And it’s not just about getting red or swollen, it’s serious respiratory problems. (Nothing a good dose of cortison couldn’t help, and no problem if you have your medication with you, but your friends might be worried, so I’m avoiding it.)

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  6. I had almost exactly the same experience with the exception of trying most fish fresh and salt / shellfish / amphibian and mollusk. Tuna I was always able to eat out of can – then ventured into fresh tuna in my 20’s as I discovered Sushi. Today still highly allergic to all from the sea with the exception of Tuna – Octopus Grilled – Swordfish and Shark ( think like tuna red steak like meat ) – good luck experimenting. BTW My theory is the minuscule level of parvalbumin ( major fish allergen ) in tuna :) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20559001

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  7. I am allergic to fresh tuna and salmon as well as most finned fish. I am able to eat canned tuna and canned salmon. I have had this allergy since age 2, now age 65. A coupe of years ago, I discovered I am able to eat cod and pollack, both of which are mild. I have to be very careful about cross contamination or shrimp cooked in or near fish. I am able to eat shellfish, scallops, and oysters. Strange!!

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