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I Have An Onion Allergy, I am not Kidding You

I am the annoying person who asks a million questions about the food at restaurant. Could you wear gloves? Can you clean your knife? Does that have onion in it? My husband knows that he can’t kiss me if he ate raw onions or I might throw up on him.

Allergies are not a joke (I have a son with a nut allergy, I know this all too well), but weird ones that nobody has ever heard of, those are hard to explain.

I am allergic to raw onions. Yes, anything that has anything to do with an onion that is raw will make me sick. Purple one, white ones. Onions of all kinds.

Red Onions

I only found out about this about two years ago. I have been suffering from Migraine headaches since I was 15. They got worse when I wrote my book, the Food Lovers’ Guide to Seattle. They were really bad at that point. They were really bad when I worked at a restaurant at the age of 18. Every other day I came home sick. I was the one making the sandwiches, layered in onions and smoked meat. So how the hell does someone go through their whole life with an allergy and not figure it out?

I had been hearing the word “trigger” when it comes to migraines for years. Doctors had told me to avoid cheese and chocolate when I was tired or hormonal because they might trigger migraines.For years, I tried so hard to identify the silent trigger that was making me suffer so bad.

I could never figure out the trigger until one day after a lunch at my favorite Mexican restaurant. I walked in with the biggest smile ever. I was only 3 bites into my food when I a headache started, then I got pain in my stomach, I ran to the bathroom, my stomach hurt for hours, then nausea and a kind of flurry feeling in my head. It lasted 3 days. I looked at everything and couldn’t figure it out. The next day another migraine. Then every few days it happened. The same sequence happened again: migraine, stomach pain, nausea and an inability to concentrate. Every time I ate Mexican food or anything with raw onion in it. Then I started monitoring it. Every time I ate onions, I got the same reaction. A headache that got progressively worse and sometimes usually lasted 3 days at a time, stomach pain and cramps, nausea and a feeling of disorientation.

I avoided onions and my migraines started going away. They went from several a week to once a month or less. It was like a weight lifted off of me. The crazy part is that I always hated the smell of raw onions but couldn’t understand why ( as if my body was trying to telling me something).
Young woman with handkerchief having  cold. Isolated.

I am very careful now when eating out. Yesterday, I ate a pickle at a restaurant that was right near the onions and it happened again. Every time even a cube of onion touches my mouth I can feel the sequence unfolding. It has even gotten worse with time. A knife that is not clean from onions will trigger it. If you get sick every time you eat onions, then you might have an allergy.

I feel like it is my duty to share this because you never know if anyone has this and doesn’t know.

Here are the symptoms of a raw onion allergy for me…

– headache with aura
– migraine
– vomiting
– nausea
-stomach pain
-leaky gut
-disoriented and confused feeling

If you have a weird allergy, please feel free to share. You never know how you can help others.


21 responses to “I Have An Onion Allergy, I am not Kidding You”

  1. I feel for you – I have a real problem with onions as well. I started hating them as a kid. I would whine so much that my mom would try to ‘hide’ them in spaghetti and such. It would never work and always make me sick.

    The problem with eating out, is that even though you can make the requests, they often fall on deaf ears – or do not get relayed to the chef. Just yesterday I was served two dishes after repeating three times “with NO cheese” – both stacked with cheese. I had to laugh – and send them back.


  2. Joe, I agree about eating out I can’t give up the pleasure of eating out. I just ask obsessively and hope for the best.


  3. I am allergic to onions. Raw onions both consumed and by cross contact have caused anaphylaxis numerous times for me. I absolutely cannot eat at a restaurant, it’s a risk of anaphylaxis. I am super sensitive to onion in any form. I have to ask a hundred questions before I eat something I did not prepare myself, what’s in it, what kind of specific seasonings, what kind of sauce, what brand of this or that, what did you cook it in, what area did you prepare it in, and etc. It’s usually not worth it for me. If onion slips by I know within seconds of putting it in my mouth, it’s a small reaction like biting into a jalapeño, that “burn” fills my mouth and I know I need to up the antihistamines and stop eating. I also react to the smell of onion, that makes grocery shopping fun :/
    I too have suffered headaches daily for years, almost 2 years ago my allergy went full blown and I went into anaphylactic shock – I didn’t even know I had allergy.
    Now, I have to carry 4 epipens on me at all times. 4. My allergist insists I carry 4 because they can “wear off” after just 15 minutes.
    People are super quick to dismiss food allergies they have heard of, throw one at them they haven’t heard of and it’s like they want to give you onion just to make sure.


  4. I don’t like onions either but my horrible allergy is with coffee, the smell makes me nauseous and when I drink it (because I used to drink it regularly) I feel worse and worse over time2-3 days worth of total weakness and exhaustion. I finally noticed one day while drinking coffee that my heart was racing even tho I had been sitting (working/cad drafting) for a few hours. It was giving me the effects of overdosing, or do my doctor explained to me. I had to quit it completely or I was going to end up having a heart attack at Starbucks 😦 caffeiene itself isn’t a trigger, and that new green coffee doesn’t seem to affect me at all.


  5. My strange allergy is potato. Sweet potato is fine, but any potato belonging to the nightshade family is going to hurt me. Also eggplant. And some hot peppers. It’s strange, because I don’t have a problem with the more common nightshade allergy of tomatoes.

    Potatoes are or COULD be in everything. I have to read labels for modified food starch and maltodextrin and, unless they specifically state that they’re made from some other starch, it’s a gamble to eat anything with those things in it. Also means I gamble any time I eat out. Like any time. I try to avoid talking about it with the people at the restaurant because it always evolves into this big conversation where I have to say, “No no. It’s not fatal. Just bring me the fruit instead of the hashbrowns.”

    When I’ve successfully avoided potato, eggplant, and the certain kinds of hot peppers (I haven’t figured out which, exactly, trigger it, but they don’t all trigger it) my IBS magically clears up, I have fewer headaches, I’m able to sleep more soundly, my mood improves (potatoes especially cause depression and increased anxiety in me), and I don’t have a weird numb sensation around my mouth and cheeks (no swelling, just a funny feeling).

    Years before I discovered potato was my problem, I discovered vodka swells my throat. Don’t know what that’s about. It’s the only alcohol that does this. A lot of people think this is an offshoot of my potato allergy, but most vodkas these days aren’t made with potato. So I dunno.


  6. If you go to a good allergist they can give you a skin test and tell you if you are allergic to a number of things. Onion is an unusual allergy. Food intolerance is a real possibility. After the skin test the allergist will do a blood test. That will determine if it is an immune system reaction. If it is you can carry an epi pen in case you react and go into anaphylactic shock,


  7. You aren’t alone, I am completely allergic to raw onions. By raw I mean not cooked to translucency – i.e. caramelized. If you add raw onion to soup, unless the soup spends hours simmering, it will make me violently ill, same for sauces. The heat must alter or destroy the protein that sets off the chain reaction, because I do not suffer all of the symptoms when the onions have been properly cooked. Recently, my BF was cooking dinner and cut into an onion…30 feet away my eyes started to burn and tear and that lasted for hours. I haven’t had a problem in too many restaurants when I tell them that the allergy is too raw onions and then explain. I always ask for salsa, guacs, and other condiments at Mexican restaurants to be served on the side or not at all because of the problem and have never once had a waiter question me. I have even had wait staff bring a dish to the table, realize it had not been properly prepared and take it back without my having to ask. While some places may be to hoity-toity to change how they serve something, I think enough now realize that there can be some pretty serious legal liability for ignoring a customer when they tell them they have an allergy…in some places its considered criminal assault, and if death results can lead to manslaughter charges.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is me! Its gotten so bad, I started carrying an Epipen. I ask for the server to be absolutely sure there are no onions in anything and there always seems to be one thing they “forgot” has onion in it. I’m to the point where I feel foolish to even expect to be safe eating out. It has been devastating to me! I love so many things that have onions in them! Italian sauces, sandwich salads, sausage varieties, soups…its crushed the core of my diet. I have to make everything from scratch which feels more like a “have to” instead of a “want to”.

    I will say that I’m glad to know what has been incidiously making sicker and sicker over the years. In 5 years, this will just be a way of life for me, but for now I am sulking.


  9. I hear you. It is the worst! I feel for you. It took me so long to understand that my migraines were from onions.Once you figure out your allergy, it all gets better.


  10. This is a years late comment but I feel your pain! I was recently diagnosed with a severe allium allergy, meaning the entire family from onions to leeks to chives and even garlic and onion powder. Luckily it’s concentration dependent so a little isn’t too bad, but during the initial hypersensitive stage it was horrible! I likely suffered from anaphylaxis many times (extremely lightheaded, numbing face, couldn’t talk or concentrate and honestly close to passing out a few times). It got to the was point even the smell triggered me, which is difficult when you have roommates who cook with it and doctors who don’t believe you…even the allergist said no hives no wheezing no allergy. I probably would’ve had better luck just calling for an ambulance, I think I got very very lucky.

    I’ve always hated the taste of raw green onions and onions too! Your body knows best. The allergy started when I had too much in one meal and it tingled and lingered in my mouth until I basically triple washed it. With a lot of neurological symptoms. Garlic sticks to my hands for days.

    We actually have an EpiPen shortage so I only have 1 on hand. I haven’t eaten any alliums recently and restaurants who have dishes without it in the recipe have been safe so far (considering risk of cross contamination). My symptoms now are:

    -wheezing (inhaler has helped this)
    -numb and tingling in jaw that spreads
    -sometimes facial swelling
    -GI and nausea from the smell

    For severe reactions:
    -tongue swollen
    -difficulty swelling
    -shortness of breathe
    -panic! Because who wouldn’t

    It’s great to see I’m not alone!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, I feel for you. It’s so hard. There are Facebook groups for onion allergies and they are great way to find products that don’t have onion.


    • Thank you for writing this article,

      Gosh I’m glad I’m not alone, but also feel so bad for you all. No one believes I have allergies to Onions except my family who have witnessed what happens to me if I accidentally consume one. I have had an intolerance since I was 11 years old, it took me in my 20’s to understand I had an issue with onions and in my 30’s I had to finally seek help. Now in my late 40’s I have to carry a 911 pack filled with drugs to help me if I come in contact with onions. I can not even smell and onion, but how can I avoid them? So this is what a happens to me if I each and onion:

      1. I get dizzy and light headed
      2. I start to get a severe migraine (only with onions)
      3. My whole body starts to burn, and my face turns red
      4. I throw up so violently
      5. My stomach starts to burn from the acid build up
      6. I can’t function, I can’t think, I just grab my head and start crying from the pain
      7. end up in ER and I am given Morphine
      8. 3,000.00 later

      I knew I couldn’t live life like this, so I started to take action. I met with an allergist who said your symptoms alone tell me you have an allergy to onions, so just try to avoid eating them. I also had an endoscopy done to find out that onions burn the lining of my stomach and cause gastritis. So I was put on prilosec.

      I can not believe how much I come in contact with onions, just smelling them is horrible.
      I now carry peppermint oil, to put around my nose so I don’t smell them,
      (someone on a plane ate a sandwich fill with purple onion which is the strongest) just my luck
      I carry a Sumitriptin pen to help prevent my migraine from happening
      followed with a steriod pill and a pill for nausea

      I’m scared because I’m getting worse, but I don’t know what to do? Sadly people don’t believe me that I get so sick. Should I wear a medical bracelet? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. HELP!


  11. Hi, I might have allergy to onions – can I die out of it? I can’t do proper tests (it’s way to expensive where I live) but I feel really bad while eating onions and I’m scared 😦 as onions are in lots of food. My stomach hurts but I also feel chest pains/have problems with breathing after eating a small onion. Does it mean I should also avoid pickles?


  12. From your list of symptoms, you may have a sinister condition lurking in the shadows. MCAS can take decades to get a diagnosis and can be responsible for all your listed symptoms. It slowly progresses adding symptoms common with other well known conditions. When it goes systemic, that’s when you’re in trouble. You’ll be allergic to hundreds of foods including onions, but not red onions, potatoes, but not red potatoes, garlic, chocolate, paprika, cumin, cilantro, all stone fruits, all berries, tomatoes, aged cheeses, everything that uses yest, all foods with vinegar, all citrus, eggs, sour cream, yogurt, donuts, forget store bought breads and all packaged foods. We went to a Cold Stones and the spoon only touched the cheesecake ice cream by mistake, my daughter asked for vanilla. The spoon was quickly rinsed, but not well enough to stop an anaphylactic reaction. The ingredient responsible for the cheesecake flavor has allergens in it. One other thing, don’t see an immunologist if it gets this far, you’ll need an oncologists for a chemotherapy drug to keep your mast cells under control. Immunologists are aware of this, but not comfortable prescribing it leaving you to suffer needlessly for years.


  13. I am allergic to onions and I thought I was the only one. I can’t be around anywhere where they are being cooked much less eat them. I am a Dental Hygienist and when my patients have eaten onions before I clean their teeth I go into a severe asthma attack. I have had two times I had an anaphylactic issue. Once in a restaurant and once in a seasoning my husband bought and I didn’t check ingredients and all H hit the fan. My whole body went through shock. I have epi pens everywhere. The crazy thing is I can eat garlic and have no problem. Your not supposed to be able to. But I know I have a true allergy with all the symptoms that occur. When your throat goes to closing and your tongue doubles in size I can’t see that as a sensitivity. It’s hard to go out to eat and I don’t eat food others have cooked. I wish there was an allergy shot I could take to not be allergic to onions. So I feel everyone’s pain.


    • It’s so hard. Thanks for sharing your story. It makes us feel less alone. Mine has gotten better over the years. I hope yours will too.


      • I too have an extreme onion ‘sensitivity’. I used to be able to eat onion and liked it. Over the years as an adult I started getting sicker and sicker after eating things like onion rings or onion soup. My symptoms were extremely severe gastrointestinal cramps and explosive diarrhea. Felt like my guts were exploding. The pain was incredible. Then after a few more years I developed the same reaction to coffee. After years of people not really believing me, my adult son who is a tough guy in the army has now also has developed the condition. Apparently it is genetic. (And now they all know it is not just in my head). I can eat a tiny bit of cooked onion that is an ingredient in a dish and only get itching. I do not ever eat onion rings or anything with a lot of onion in it anymore. I stayed off the coffee for a few years and then had half a cup and was so sick I will never touch that ever again.


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