Caffeine Allergy: Top 20 Symptoms

Allergic to caffeine? It seems like you aren’t alone as hundreds of people have now testified to strange reactions experienced after caffeine consumption.
Headache

This article has been compiled from anecdotal evidence. Some people do not metabolize caffeine as well as others. Others are also sensitive to adrenalin. It pays to know your limits with caffeine. If you suspect that caffeine is causing problems, this can be tested by eliminating it from the diet.

Some time ago, we published a short post about the possibility of allergic reactions to caffeine.

That post received hundreds of comments from those who claimed to have experienced some type of adverse reaction to caffeine.

We have painstakingly sifted through all those comments, compiling the top 20 caffeine allergic reactions in order from most common to least common.

In most cases these symptoms were reported after only having a little to moderate amount of caffeine through coffee, tea, soda and/or energy drinks.

Most Common Allergic Reactions to Caffeine

  1. Skin problems such as hives, eczema, rashes, acne, severe itching
  2. Headaches or migraines
  3. Anxiety and panic attacks
  4. Can’t focus or concentrate
  5. Tongue, glands, or throat swelling
  6. Heart racing or palpitations
  7. Angry, irritable, bad mood
  8. Fatigue
  9. Dizziness
  10. Extreme jitters
  11. Chest Pain
  12. Depression
  13. Numbness in face, hands, or feet
  14. Muscle pain
  15. Shortness of breath or tightness of chest
  16. Delusions or hallucinations
  17. Flu/ cold like symptoms
  18. Vision problems
  19. Cold sweats
  20. Eyes swollen shut
Need to quit caffeine? Get expert help here.

Is this Scientific Evidence?

At least one scientific study has shown that people can have anaphylactic reactions to caffeine and is confirmed by a skin prick test.1

There is evidence regarding the inability to process caffeine as some people lack the genes responsible for this or the genes aren’t being expressed as they should be. This allows caffeine to build up in a person’s body rather than being broken down properly. These people are described as hypersensitive to caffeine.2

The above data is entirely based on anecdotal evidence, so don’t take it as gospel or scientific, but rather consider these caffeine allergy symptoms as possible since they were reported by a large number of people. If a person suspects a caffeine allergy, he/she should cease caffeine consumption immediately and then assess as to whether it was indeed the caffeine. The symptoms should subside  after caffeine is eliminated.

Did you know that rutaecarpine can remove caffeine from your system faster? Find out how here.

There is a fine line between what would be called caffeine sensitivity and what would be called caffeine allergy, but overall we’re dealing with the body not being able to correctly process the caffeine molecule, so whether it’s called sensitivity or allergy is up for debate.

caffeine-allergy

Skin rashes are common.

Most people on the original article reported several of the above symptoms and some of the caffeine allergy symptoms were quite bizarre. The symptoms that were the strangest included itchy ears & anus suffered by one poor soul and a sweaty butt crack reported by another…

Caffeine allergy has also been linked to a form of ADD and dementia in adults. The claim is that caffeine induced anaphylaxis impairs people’s abilities to concentrate and remember things. (Src.)

Could It Be Mycotoxins?

Mycotoxins are essentially chemicals produced by fungi and they can produce all kinds of negative reactions when ingested by humans. A recent study3 from the University of Valencia in Spain found that commercially sold coffee is often contaminated with mycotoxins. They’ve identified 18 different mycotoxins that are commonly found in coffee and found that the levels in decaffeinated coffee are often higher than that of regular coffee.

If you have a reaction to coffee but not other caffeinated products, there’s a good chance that you are sensitive to mycotoxins and not the caffeine.

What To Do If You Are Suffering

  1. Explore our extensive Caffeine in Food database as well as our Caffeine in Beverages database in order to be aware of all the products that have caffeine listed as an ingredient along with the amount they contain.
  2. Eliminate these products from your diet. There may be a period of caffeine withdrawal where you actually feel worse.
  3. Assess whether your symptoms have disappeared. It may take up to 2 weeks for all of caffeine’s effects to wear off. 

Please note: A surprising number of products contain caffeine, and some have a lot more than what you think.

Even decaffeinated drinks still contain caffeine – although only a small amount such as decaf brewed coffee.

Education is best way to prevent an allergic reaction to caffeine.

Get Help Quitting Caffeine

Reduce your caffeine intake without pain and discomfort.

See our new 10-step plan
  • Dee Caffeinated

    I have found I can’t have caffeine either after suffering extreme panic attacks, generalized anxiety and bad heart palpitations. I too went to the emergency room, ( at least 3 times now over the course of about 6 years ) I have had ultrasounds, EKG’s, once had the holter monitor assigned, blood tests and even went to a heart specialist. All told me that my heart was healthy, and without defects. The last straw for me was when I was alone in the house after some moderate exercise and my heart took off, pounding like a drum and then I started to get faint, my vision started to white out like I wasn’t getting enough air. Then I my heart would return to normal for a few seconds and then take off again like that. I figured the only thing left it could be was caffiene, so I kicked it completely. The ironic and difficult thing about that is I am so sensitive to caffiene that I get migraines that are bad enough to make me puke when I abruptly stop caffeine, so I cut back within a 2 week period to nothing, I still had headaches but they weren’t as bad as going “cold turkey”.

    I was amazed at the end of 2 weeks how I felt like a new person. Forever I had been a crabby in the morning type and it was like waking the dead to get myself up. I had always felt jittery and irritable through the day and felt best at night. On that morning of the second week I woke up at 8 am on my own and felt rested for the first time in years. I have experienced far fewer panic attacks and anxiety is almost gone. I am not crabby in the morning and my skin looks better ( I aways broe out on the forehead and temples ) I do NOT miss the caffeine. It’s like now that caffeine isn’t standing in my way I can do the things I need and want to do, without such a ferocious battle!

  • rick

    Caffeine induces severe flushing and pimples on my back. I already have acne rosacea and even small amounts of caffeine will make my skin flare up within an hour of consumption. It can last up to 2 days before it calms down and resolves.
    I had no caffeine issues until I was in my mid-20s.

  • Liz

    Sometimes when I drink coffee, I get hyper but other times, I feel extremely tired. Every single time after drinking coffee, when I urinate it smells like coffee!! It used to be very soon after drinking coffee, but it has been getting later and later….
    I don’t know if my body is becoming less able to excrete coffee or what but I know that it happens and it is unpleasant. When I drink too much coffee, I become elated and then several hours later, I am despondent. It’s an emotional roller coaster.

    The funny thing is that these things don’t happen to the same degree or even at all if I drink tea or red bull or eat chocolate. Tea can give me uterine cramps but I don’t seem to get the mood changes. I have been getting SEVERE acne recently. I LOVE chocolate and don’t want to give that up. Red bull doesn’t have any negative effects on me.

    It’s hard for me to tell if I am allergic or sensitive to caffeine itself or the actual coffee.

  • Liz

    Also, I get canker sores in my mouth after drinking a lot of coffee. Not so much with tea…

  • coffeeaddict

    Im a 21 year old girl from Pakistan, Karachi. I developed acute urticaria two years back when i was 19 years old. My mum said it was because of severe coffee intake [i was having my A levels and university entry tests] and according to her, caffeine is hot in nature which is why the allergy [acute urticaria] developed on my skin. I still remember, the day i had my interview at the best university in pakistan, i had the itchy patches ALL OVER my body and my brother failed to recognize me.

    Well, recently i discovered that urticaria also occurs due to an insect bite. well, anyways i stopped my intake of coffee ever since the urticaria attacks and just recently started on again. i have noticed that once i go a little over than 2 shots of black coffee [a tea spoon of coffee in 2 sips of chilled water], i develop SEVERE chest pains and vision blurring issues. In addition to that my legs and arms get tingling feeling and im unable to move. there is a bit of a physical arrest while my mind is frantic with energy.

    Also since my recent trips to a psychologist who said i have severe depression and mood swing issues, which is very true, i think that is also because of coffee as it acts as artificial stimuli to the brain. Depression phases come every month when after two weeks i pick up EVERY bad thing that has ever happened to me and cry the whole day.

    So, although i JUST had a shot of black coffee to stay awake to study for my exam on saturday. i’m planning to leave coffee once again and i would suggest everyone to have any issues similar to mine to lessen if not completely finish off their consumption.

    This life is short. We gotta live healthy =)

  • Liz

    This is so interesting! After YEARS of not drinking coffee – just sporadically having a frappucino, I finally decided to give in (at visitor’s requests) and buy my first coffee machine – a Keurig at that.

    This week, I went to my Doctor for chest pain and my left arm becoming numb/tingling. I figured it’s best not to sit on symptoms like that because they’re signs of some awful outcomes. An EKG was done and everything came back normal. The doctor did look in my mouth and while doing so she was able to see up my nose, at that time she made a comment about me having [insert doctor term here], which shows I have allergies. What?! I’ve never been allergic to anything in my life. But I stopped to think about it, my nose had been awfully stuffy lately.

    I skipped coffee yesterday, no symptoms. Had a cup this morning, chest pain / tightening came back. Interesting. Now coming across this article, I’m almost certain I’m allergic to coffee. But the odd thing is, I don’t have this reaction with soda.

  • Theresa

    I have written several times on this site. I gave up coffee 7 1/2 months ago. I was a medical mess. I just had blood test done and was shocked to find that I no longer anemic. For twenty years my blood test showed that I was severly anemic. The 3-5 cups of coffe I had every morning was flushing all the iron out of my body. My skin now looks normal. No more severe break outs. I actually look 10 years younger than I did last summer. The top of my scalp in one area still has redness issues and itching. I am still trying to figure that one out. Back when I was at my worst (physically) I did not think I would be alive at this time. For me the combination of Dunkin Donuts grind coffee, Nestle coffee creamer and sugar were the equivlent of gasoline, paper and fire.
    Just think, coffee being just a simple drink can cause so many problems within the body.

  • X-Man X-Caffinated

    I’ve been drinking coffee for over 20 years, and recently started drinking expressos in quantity. I never had any rashes until about three weeks ago, when I started getting just a few odd hive-like swellings on my legs and lower back. At first I thought it was… well, everything else, but after a while of not eating anything I had thought it was, I started noticing that I was getting the hive response within a few minutes of drinking an expresso. So I switched back to coffee, and I still had a reaction, albeit less pronounces (1/4″ diameter itchy welts as opposed to 3/4″ diameter itchy welts).

    After a two day period of no caffeine (a sad moment in my caffeine addicted life) I realized that I also had no more itchy welts. So, just because I am a caffeine addict who refused to admit I could possibly have to give up the last of my chemical addictions (stopped drinking about 10 years ago, stopped weed about 15 years ago…) I tried another cup of coffee, and within five minutes of the blessed nectar passing my lips, I had three itchy welts growing on my inner thigh, and one on my left arm.

    So it is with sadness and resignation that I must admit that my overindulgence in my favorite beverage has led me to this realization: I unknowingly seem to have given myself an allergy to caffeine (I also apparently have the same reaction to green tea, which leads me to believe that it is the caffeine, not the coffee alkaloids – and I mostly drank organic coffee/expressos).

    I’m hoping it doesn’t take all summer for me to normalize without caffeine – I get brain fog when I go for too long without caffeine…

    And my condolances to all of you others out there who have come to this page, suspecting that you, too, may have developed a reaction to your beloved beverage.

  • bodhipearl

    I have discovered that while I have a sensitivity to caffeine that mirrors many of the symptoms mentioned by everyone above, the issue stems from poor liver function. After detoxing my liver (only fruits and veg for a few days) and giving it support with Milk Thistle, my body can again process caffeine without the symptoms associated. This still tells me that caffeine is not good, since it can back up my liver, which terrorizes my entire body. But it may offer some additional explanation and relief to others.

  • Coffee Quitter

    I’ve wondered for a while if my coffee consumption was the root of a lot of these little odd issues I’ve been experiencing. I thought maybe I was just sensitive to dust or something…sinus blockages, but I had never felt tingling that burned UNDER my skin and scalp or by my ears before. I’ve had mood swings from caffeine and just thought, okay whatever…not that big of a deal. I thought my hallucinations were just fatigue and anxiety symptoms my cycle or something since I’m a woman. However, couple of years ago I was prescribed anxiety meds because panic attacks started effecting my ability to work and overall life. I got panic attacks on the way to work on the train or on the bus and it was TERRIFYING. Lately though, I’ve been wondering if I shouldn’t ditch coffee because of the anxiety problems…tightness in my chest, tingling in my limbs at times, or somewhat racing heart along with the itchy and burny scalp and skin. It doesn’t seem as though I have a rash yet, and after today…I’m not going to continue to see if one develops. Back to green tea it is for me. I’m glad I read this forum today because these symptoms got worse after I started drinking coffee after not being on it for a while, which now I’m drinking 2 cups in the morning as opposed to the 1 that I was in the habit of. My brother is sensitive to caffeine and so is my mother. I think I’m going to have to admit that I am too and just walk away for good this time. Sorry coffee, we’re through.

  • Tobias

    Coffee Quitter: Ditch the green tea too. It may contain nearly as much caffeine as instant coffee, depending on how you brew it.

  • Coffee can be very dangerous! I have done over 20 years of marital counseling. I have seen especially in woman a direct correlation between PMS and caffeine. In some cases by withdrawing all caffeine PMS decreased from 22 days to 1 1/2 days which is normal. In a few cases certain woman actually who where on a drug regime went completely off.
    For both men and women also there have been reports of suicide. Caffeine is a powerful depressant. Yes it can cause nervousness and all the other side effects associated with a stimulant but in some cases it actually has the reverse effect causing deep depression.
    If you are fighting any of these stop immediately and in less then 4 days you will see a change. In one month your natural energy will be restored and your mood will change as well.

  • Noelle D.

    I am so happy to find these posts. Now I know I wasn’t crazy and for sure I am allergic to caffeine.

    About 2 months ago, I started to drink espresso drinks from Starbucks 5 days a week for about 5 weeks, I started to have to all of the symptoms listed for caffeine allergy except for rashes. I thought I was going crazy and having a heart attack at the same time, so I went to the ER, the doctor even had me see a mental health social worker at the ER. The doctor told me I was having an anxiety attack and prescribed me Lorazepam and some antibiotic for my urinary infection. I went home and went to a Chinese herbal store because I did not want to take Lorazepam, told the Chinese herbalist what I was having and he prescribed me 12 different kinds of Chinese herbs to help me with my symptoms, I felt better after 5 days drinking the Chinese herbs until I took the antibiotic which it gave me all of the severe side effects, such as anxiety, depression, moody, muscle aches, etc..

    I even went to a Psychiatrist thinking that there was something wrong with me mentally due to all of the side effects from the antibiotic, the Psychiatrist then told me to stop taking the Chinese herbs to take Buspar (another anxiety medicine). I went home, took 2/3 of the Buspar, it even made my symptoms worsen, so I stopped take Buspar the next day. It’s been about 3 weeks since I had any caffeine drinks and It’s been 6 days since I went back drinking Chinese herbs again and I feel like a normal person again.

    I now have to careful not to consume anything that has caffeine and I will not even drink tea except for herbal tea.

  • Mel Maxx

    WOW! I have been dealing with a lot of these symptoms for over 4.5 years now. I have been a coffee drinker for 15 years with no problems and all of a sudden one day It all changed. I felt like I was having a stroke, I honestly felt I was dying. Weakness in right foot and hand (felt heavy) bad headache, itchy ears, severe anxiety and panic attack, heart would race, heat sweat (feverish), couldn’t concentrate, eyes blurry, irrateable, and insomnia. One time I went to emergency room. I had a hard time explaining my symptoms to Doctors or others. I searched the internet couldn’t find a solution. I even had a MRI because my symptoms were comparable to MS.

    I went through the process of elimination with everything (or so I thought) and still… wouldn’t go away.

    Tonight I felt horrible again and wondered what did I do today that would make me feel like this again… I had 2 cups of coffee (SBC) this evening and 2 this morning. I for poops and giggles decided to search Coffee Allergy, humoring myself the idea was far fetched..Low and Behold Here I am and it all makes sense. 2 weeks ago I traded in my cup of Joe for Cranberry Juice for a week and I was fine.

    I’m flushing out my body with tons of water this evening and I’m starting to see relief. Thank YOU ALL for commenting and making me see I’m not crazy! No MORE COFFEE for me after today.

    I will try to post a follow up in 2 weeks.

    BTW~ I also started to notice thinning hair, loss of hair, itchy ears, and butt itch (TMI).
    No skin rash but bad face acne. Cannot lose weight either.

  • Paul

    Being an IT guy, there’s a stereotype of being constantly within 6 inches of some form of caffeinated beverage. I first discovered that I had some kind of caffeine allergy about two years ago when I fell sick with one of those superbugs that you hear about on the news. At first the doctors didn’t mind I drank anything with caffeine since I had no history of heart troubles or anything of the sort, but then they discovered that after walking all of 2-3 meters, my heart was going nuts, and it felt like I had an Alien Chestburster 3 seconds from blowing out of my chest. Since I hadn’t had any such problems prior to me getting the superbug, the doctors had a theory that somehow, my immune system went into overdrive, and in addition to attacking the bug, it developed the sensitivity to caffeine as well, and the antibiotics, which were extremely strong and affected the organs which helped to break down caffeine in the body, forcing it to stay longer in my system induced the sensitivity.

    There were other things too. For example, I would begin to itch in random parts of my body, and sometimes what would happen is if I didn’t scratch the itch fast enough, it would cause the equivalent of a feedback loop, and I’d get what I can only describe as a shock in my muscle, causing a nasty (if very brief) twitch. I’d also get migraines, not to menion that I’d get random red spots on my skin. They wouldn’t be full blown like you’d get from a mosquito bite or bee sting, but my skin would most definitely look red. I’d also have trouble hearing people sometimes, and I’d have to ask them to speak up, and the list went on.

    It wasn’t until I finally swore off caffeine for good that things began to improve. It was tough at first since the running joke with my doctor was that my blood type was Caffeinated, and I would routinely drink 3-4 bottles of soda per day, which also didn’t help with ye olde waistline over time. But once I got past the jitters and the withdrawal headache, I was fine, and I haven’t looked back since.

  • Me

    Whenever I drink coffee my heart races and I feel great…at first. Then about a half an hour later I crash, my mood tanks, and I am fatigued for the rest of the day. Yet I still get up and go for the stuff again. I read somewhere that coffee initially has an effect that elevates mood and I’m seriously considering that I might be an addict, since the later fatigue, stomach cramps, depression, heart palpitiations, and yellow teeth, don’t stop me from drinking coffee. I also love chocolate. When I was younger I would eat chocolate all day, drink coke, and coffee and then crash the next day with wild heart palpitations. I’ve quit that at least.

  • Three years ago, my MD, ND, anti-aging specialist did blood tests for food allergies. He came back with a daunting list:Cane Sugar, Eggs, Dairy, Gluten, Peanuts, Almonds, Pineapple and Oysters. He described food allergy as a bucket overfilled and spilling over, causing symptoms. Eliminate most of the allergens and the bucket no longer spills over, he said. Now, after three years of careful elimination of ALL my allergens, I find I can eat some gluten and some dairy (hard cheeses)w/o symptoms. Cane Sugar still causes bladder leakage and eggs still cause cramps and bloating. He assured me very few people have only one food allergy. So, while eliminating caffeine, keep up the hunt or get tested. There are likely more causes. Good luck!

  • Rick

    I can’t stay away from the espresso machine, StarBucks or Coffee Bean. My favorates are the Mom & Pop coffee shops. However, if I don’t take my Zyrtec everyday, or everyother day I will break out head to toe in hives. My eyes will swell and itchy swollen ears. I’ve been almost living off Starbucks & Coffee Bean for the past 12 years. Also on top of that, if I can’t get to sleep I will have a cup of coffee or a nice quadrouple latte to fall asleep. Can’t get enough.

  • mike

    Giving up coffee for good. I have tried this again and again. Quit then start drinking lattes again. then I break out in cysts on my face which sting and burn for a week. I am finished with this sh@t. Its dumb to pay 4 bucks for this crap, give another dollar for a tip then have my face f-up for a week.
    Caffiene and factory milk are two horrible poisons.
    5×30 days=$150 per month. That is how much I will save and not poison my body at the same time.

  • Rachael

    Very interesting. I didn’t drink coffee until I was 18! Never heard of an allergic reaction to the stuff. Which does now make sense! I am quitting coffee now (and none of that wretched Decaf, yuck)!. I have been using those hand strengtheners this week cause my hands have been terrible this month, and I noticed that they expanded after I drank Mt. Dew. No more Mt. Dew (sadness). Also my left arm aches whenever I take NoDoze(not to knock them as I have loved their product for the past three years intermittently). And when I drink soda, I talk really fast. I do try to control that one, but it doesn’t work well. And my left arm also breaks out. My right foot also swells…never mind the fact it was injured seven years ago this fall. So, caffeine, as friendly as it is to the majority of us is also a downfall and annoyance to a minority. Sigh, that just didn’t make sense. Yes, I just drank a Mt. Dew. My last, forever. Not! I’m going to have one when I’m bored, and don’t have to go anywhere. Other than that! Caffeine free…no,-decaf…

Last Modified: July 26, 2016

References

  • 1. Infante, S., Baeza, M. L., Calvo, M., De Barrio, M., Rubio, M., & Herrero, T. (2003). Anaphylaxis due to caffeine. Allergy, 58(7), 681-682. study link
  • 2.Hinrichs, R., Hunzelmann, N., Ritzkowsky, A., Zollner, T. M., Krieg, T., & Scharffetter‐Kochanek, K. (2002). Caffeine hypersensitivity. Allergy, 57(9), 859-860. study link
  • 3. García-Moraleja, A., Font, G., Mañes, J., & Ferrer, E. (2015). Simultaneous determination of mycotoxin in commercial coffee. Food Control, 57, 282-292.