News, Culture & Society

Boy, five, suffers life-threatening allergic reaction after eating trendy artisanal honey

A five-year-old in Italy suffered a life-threatening allergic reaction after eating trendy honey. 

The unidentified boy, who had bad hayfever, went into anaphylactic shock and was rushed to hospital in Piacenza, near Milan, after eating artisanal honey. 

He suffered breathing difficulties and broke out in hives half-an-hour after eating a meal containing the artisanal honey and salmon. 

Tests revealed he wasn’t allergic to salmon or shop-bought honey, but instead was having a reaction to higher pollen levels in the fancier alternative.

Artisanal honey — which can cost upwards of £100 per jar — is usually produced in smaller batches than commercial alternatives and is not processed, pasteurised or filtered to the same extent.

Advocates rave about its antioxidants, as well as anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties properties.

It contains much higher levels of pollen — a fine powder from plants which sticks to bees — than mass-produced honey, which filters out most of the pollen and is often diluted.

Anaphylaxis is the result of the immune system, the body’s natural defence system, overreacting to a trigger such as food or medication. 

Symptoms — such as breathing difficulties and a fast heartbeat — develop suddenly and get worse rapidly.

The boy’s case was revealed in a medical journal by doctors at Guglielmo da Saliceto Hospital in Piacenza, who warned about the potential dangers of artisanal product. 

One in four Britons — 16million people — and 24million Americans have hay fever — an allergy to pollen — but most cases are very mild. 

Artisan honey is not as thoroughly pasteurised and filtered as mass-produced honey, so contains much higher levels of pollen. This means people who are sensitive to pollen – who have hayfever – can develop allergic symptoms to the product

The medics said the patient is the first reported case of honey-induced anaphylaxis in a child aged under six.

And paediatricians should be aware of ‘the potential risk of severe allergic reactions’ after children eat honey or bee pollen products, especially if they have hay fever. 

Dr Joanna Lukawska, an allergy specialist at University College Hospital London, told MailOnline she has seen patients have similar allergic reactions, especially when consuming bee pollen as a supplement.

It can be bought from most health food stores to be combined with food and drinks for added vitamins and minerals.


Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen, typically when it comes into contact with your mouth, nose, eyes and throat. 

Pollen is a fine powder from plants.

People with hay fever react to pollen as if it is harmful.

Their cells release chemicals inside their nose, causing it to become swollen and produce too much mucus.

This response can also be triggered by mould spores, house dust mites and some animals. 

Main symptoms include sneezing, coughing, a runny or blocked nose and itchy, red or watery eyes.

Hay fever cannot be cured or prevented, but people can take antihistamines to help with the symptoms.

Dr Lukawska said: ‘Most people will have no problem tolerating bee pollen.

‘However, patients with hay fever may develop allergic symptoms such as throat swelling, itchy mouth or even anaphylaxis.’

And artisanal honey can also trigger the reaction because small-batch products are ‘not as strictly regulated as commercial products’.

So they are likely to contain higher amounts of pollen, as well as other potentially allergenic products, such as walnuts, pistachio nuts and goji berries, Dr Lukawska said.

She added: ‘This of course is no problem for most people, except for those who happen to be allergic to the product contained in the honey.’

Some patients who are particularly sensitive to pollen can also have allergic reactions just from eating certain fruit that contains pollen, such as apples and cherries.

Dr Lukawska said many of these patients can eat a small slice of apple and only experience mouth tingling, but can have a severe reaction if they drink a whole glass of fresh apple juice, as it coats their throat and can cause problems breathing.

However, they are able to drink shop-bought pasteurised apple juice because this eliminates pollen in the product.

Professor Stephen Till, an allergy expert at clinic Allergy London, told MailOnline he has not encountered a patient who has reacted to artisan honey, but has seen several who have experienced anaphylaxis to bee pollen grains.

He said: ‘The patients were all pollen allergic and given that this allergy is so common, in my view there needs to be more caution about using such products.’

Writing in the Journal of Medical Case Reports, medics revealed they conducted a skin-prick allergy test to determine what caused their five-year-old patient’s allergic reaction.

This involves putting a drop of liquid containing potential allergy triggers — salmon and honey in this case — and gently pricking the skin underneath the drop.

If a patient is allergic to the substance, they will develop a red and itchy bump within 15 minutes.

But in this case, the child did not have a reaction to salmon or supermarket honey. When medics tested the specific type of honey he consumed, he developed a reaction on his skin.

Further skin-prick tests revealed he was allergic to pollen present in the artisan honey.

Doctors had a follow-up appointment with the child a year later and said he had avoided honey and had not suffered another allergic reaction.