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What Is "Psyllium Husk"?
Psyllium is an herb. Psyllium seeds, including their husks (outer casings), are used for a variety of purposes. Most notably, ground psyllium seed is used as a laxative to treat constipation and to soften stool, as it is very effective for these purposes in many individuals. Other popular uses for psyllium seed, which may or may not be as effective, include its use as an agent for:
- lowering cholesterol levels
- relieving irritable bowel syndrome
- treating diarrhea
- lowering high blood pressure
- treating hemorrhoids
In addition to its inclusion in many popular over-the-counter laxatives and other medical products, psyllium seed also is present in many foods, such as some cereals, snack bars, and breads, for example.
Unfortunately, as described below, psyllium seed is known to cause allergic reactions in some people. It is often said that these people are prone to experiencing an "allergic reaction to psyllium" or an "allergic reaction to psyllium husk". However, as far as allergies are concerned, there is no practical distinction between the terms "psyllium" and "pysllium husk" (i.e., these terms are essentially synonymous), because in both cases, people are referring to ground psyllium seed. To add further confusion, other popular names that are synonymous with psyllium and psyllium husk include:
- Blond Psyllium
- Blond Plantago
- Che Qian Zi
- Dietary Fiber
- Englishman's Foot
- Indian Plantago
- Pale Psyllium
- Sand Plantain
- Various scientific (i.e., latin) names that start with "Plantago"
If you hear any of these terms, especially if mentioned with respect to allergies, you can be sure that the speaker is referring to ground psyllium seed (with its husk included in the ground material).
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The Psyllium Husk Allergy Problem
The first case of psyllium seed allergy was reported in 1941. This specific type of allergy was not a prevalent problem for many years after that, but in the 1980s, reported cases of allergy to psyllium seed began to increase dramatically, and they are still increasing today. Nurses, who frequently provide psyllium seed to patients, and employees in plants that handle psyllium seed are particularly susceptible to becoming allergic to psyllium husk due to their regular exposure to it. However, it should be noted that some people experience an allergic outbreak to psyllium husk the very first time they are exposed to it.
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What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of An Allergic Reaction?
Although many people who are allergic to psyllium husk experience only mild symptoms, some psyllium husk allergy sufferers experience severe symptoms, and some even die as a result of these symptoms (please see the first reference cited at the end of the article for an account of such a case). The most commonly seen symptoms include:
- rhinoconjunctivitis (a condition which is characterized by sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and itchiness of the nose, eyes and throat)
- swelling and mucous build up in the lungs, which can cause wheezing and other breathing problems
- an abnormally elevated white blood cell count
In the worst cases, those having an allergic reaction experience anaphylaxis, which is a severe, whole body allergic response that can strike immediately following exposure to psyllium husk. A person who experiences anaphylaxis needs to obtain immediate medical attention as death can result.
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A Final Word About Psyllium Husk Allergy
An allergic reaction to psyllium husk is treated just as is any other allergic outbreak (for more information about common treatments for allergies, please click here). If you suspect that you may be allergic to psyllium husk, it is recommended that you immediately stop using products that contain psyllium seed and contact your doctor. This article is meant only to provide some basic information regarding allergy to psyllium husk and it is not meant to replace the good advice of your doctor.
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B. Khalili et al., Psyllium-associated anaphylaxis and death: a case report and review of the literature, Annals Of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology 91:579-584 (2003).
Medline Plus, National Institutes of Health, Blond Psyllium: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/866.html