Are You at Risk for Histamine Poisoning?

There are two ways to get histamine poisoning: Histamine toxicity, (or scombroid poisoning) food poisoning caused by an excess of histamine through improper food handling or spoilage, and an allergy to histamine, which causes a mast cell reaction releases histamine and sparks your symptoms.

What Causes Histamine Toxicity?

Fish such as mackerel, mahi, tuna, bluefish, and herring are the most commonly implicated in histamine toxicity. Certain cheeses can cause this toxicity as well. These foods are especially high in a chemical called histidine, and when the histidine comes into contact with excess bacteria caused by food stored at the wrong temperature or by another type of improper handling, histidine turns into histamine.

Histamine Toxicity Symptoms

When you consume the affected food, the histamine causes allergy-like symptoms, including:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Faintness
  • Vision disturbances
  • Wheezing
  • Swollen tongue, mouth, or face
  • Flushed skin

The signs of histamine toxicity usually occur within a few minutes to a few hours of eating the spoiled food and will go away on its own in less than a day. An antihistamine can help to treat the discomfort. If the symptoms linger or seem especially serious, seek medical care.

Diagnosing Histamine Poisoning

If you know that it's not an allergy to histamine, but it's poisoning, seek immediate help. One of the best clues that the problem is caused by histamine poisoning rather than allergies is when multiple people who ate the same food have similar symptoms.

While anyone can experience histamine toxicity or histamine poisoning, if you have a particularly low level of a certain type of enzyme called diamine oxidase, you may be more susceptible to the problem. Overall, though, the risk of histamine toxicity is quite small.

Preventing Histamine Toxicity

The best way to manage histamine toxicity is to avoid it in the first place. Store your food properly at cold enough temperatures and follow other safe food handing techniques to keep bacteria at bay.




American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI). "Histamine Toxicity." Web. 8 April 2012.

Becker Karen et al. "Histamine Poisoning Associated With Eating Tuna Burgers." JAMA. 285(10) (2001):1327-1330. Web. 8 April 2012.

Taylor SL. "Histamine food poisoning: toxicology and clinical aspects." Critical Reviews in Toxicology 17(2) (1986): 91-128. Web. 8 April 2012.