Cicadas Illinois

Have a seafood allergy? You might want to steer away from eating cicadas. Here's why

People who are allergic to shellfish should avoid consuming the small, crunchy critters, doctors assert.

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A wide swath of the U.S. has become entrenched in a cicada frenzy as trillions of the noisy but harmless insects emerge from the ground.

Illinois is at the center of it all, as it's one of two states experiencing a rare double-brood emergence.

While some people might try to avoid cicadas at all costs, others are seeking them out, but not because they want to catch a glimpse of the bugs or hear what they sound like.

Some people are actually eating cicadas.

Cicadas have a lot of protein and a low fat content, making them a desirable snack option for those who don’t mind eating bugs. And yes, they're safe to consume for most people.

But that's not the case for everyone, such as children, people who are pregnant and those with a certain seafood allergy, according to the Cleveland Clinic. 

People who are allergic to shellfish should avoid consuming the small, crunchy critters, doctors said.

That's because cicadas and shellfish actually contain the same protein, explained Dr. Sindhura Bandi, an allergy and immunology specialist at Rush University Medical Center.

Tropomyosin, a muscle protein, is the major allergen in shellfish like shrimp, crab or lobster.

The protein isn't found in just cicadas, but also in other insects like crickets, fruit flies and grasshoppers.

Whether they ingest a cicada or eat shellfish, someone with a history of seafood allergies might react the exact same way, Bandi said. Doctors strongly advise against eating cicadas if you are allergic to shellfish. But if you choose to and start experiencing an allergic reaction, they recommend you seek medical attention immediately. 

Those with shellfish allergies don't need to stay away from cicadas completely, however.

Just don't eat them, Bandi stated.

"In terms of touching, there's actually no risk of touching the cicada, coming into contact with them, being around the air where they are there. Because the shell or the exoskeleton of the cicada does not contain that tropomyosin or that mussel," she explained.

If you ingest a cicada and start developing allergy symptoms, you might be allergic to shellfish and not know it. While some food allergies, like ones to peanut butter, develop early in life, that's not the case with shellfish.

"[It's] actually the most common allergen to develop in adulthood," Bandi said. "So we're certainly seeing a prevalence not only just in general with shellfish allergies, but with adult, onset shellfish allergies.”

If you start experiencing any of the following symptoms in the minutes or hours after ingesting cicadas, you might be experiencing an allergic reaction. 

  • Hive-type or welt-type rash
  • Swelling of lips, eyelids or tongue
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing 
  • Immediate vomiting or diarrhea

If any of the aforementioned symptoms occur, it's recommended that you get seen by a medical professional. If you happen to have an EpiPen on hand, that will likely help alleviate symptoms in the meantime.

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