Cotton seed

Further Reading

Cotton, crude fibers o1

Code: k83
Latin name: Gossypium hirsutum
Family: Malvaceae (Mallow)
Common names: Cotton seed, Cottonseed

A number of Gossypium species are relevant in the consideration of this allergen.

See also Cotton, crude fibres o1

Occupational allergen

A food, which may result in allergy symptoms in sensitised individuals.

Allergen Exposure

Cotton has been grown since the time of ancient Egyptian civilisation, and is a widespread crop in the modern world. The plant’s main requirements are a warm climate and abundant water (which is often supplied by irrigation). Though the fibre is the best known cotton product, parts of the plant are edible and in common use as foods.

The cotton seed consists of two parts: the hull, from which the staple cotton lint and linters arise, and the kernel, from which the oil and meal are obtained.

The flour can be used in food supplements, bread and candy. The cooked and toasted flour is used as a colouring agent in food products, and the hulls serve as roughage for cattle.

The oil is edible and fairly bland. Olive oil is commonly mixed with other oils, which makes it cheaper. These oils include canola oil, corn, cotton seed and coya oils. In an FDA study testing the purity of 73 olive oils distributed in the USA, only 4% of all oils were found to be unadulterated, although they were all sold as 100% olive oil.

Hydrogenated cotton seed oil, cotton seed oil, cotton seed acid, cotton seed glyceride, and hydrogenated cotton seed glyceride are cosmetic ingredients derived from cotton seed oil, and used as skin-conditioning agents and surfactants. Non-oil substances known to be toxic that may be found in cotton seed oils include gossypol, aflatoxin, and cyclopropenoid fatty acids (CPFA). Toxic heavy metal and/or polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) or other pesticide contamination is also possible. (1)

Allergen Description

No allergens from this plant have yet been characterised. A vicilin-like protein similar to that found in cocoa bean has been isolated from cotton fibre. (2)

Potential Cross-reactivity

Extensive cross-reactivity among the different individual species of the Malvaceae family could be expected. (3)

Clinical Experience

a. IgE-mediated reactions

Allergic reactions to cotton seed may occur uncommonly. These need to be differentiated from adverse reactions to cotton seed dust, which have been described under cotton, crude fibres o1. The most common exposure to cotton seed may occur in a number of occupational situations, e.g. the handling of the seeds as cattle food, and also the handling of the seeds when sowing.

Systemic allergic reactions in 7 individuals were reported after ingestion of a newly marketed food supplement which contained cotton seed flour. Double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenges performed in 2 subjects with cotton seed flour produced reactions consisting of oropharyngeal pruritus, rhinitis, nausea, diaphoresis, dyspnoea, cough, and a fall in pulmonary function tests of 45% or more. Skin-specific IgE with food supplement extracts showed marked sensitisation of all 7 subjects to cotton seed protein. (4)

Adverse effects to other foods containing cotton seed protein have also been described. Anaphylaxis was reported after ingestion of candy and bread containing cotton seed. (5, 6) A 29-year-old developed a severe allergic reaction after eating whole-grain bread which appeared to contain cotton seed protein flour. Skin-specific IgE tests with the bread and cotton seed were strongly positive, and high levels of specific IgE to cotton seed protein could be demonstrated in the patient’s blood samples. The authors pointed out that cotton seed flour is used in diverse products and can cause unexpected severe hypersensitivity reactions. (7)

In an Indian study of 24 children aged 3 years to 15 years, with documented deterioration in the control of their perennial asthma during the months of August and September, specific IgE for a range of food items were determined and it was found that 8 (33%) of this group were sensitised to Cottonseed. (8)

Three hundred and twenty-four patients were evaluated for sensitisation to seeds. Few patients were allergic to mustard seed (4%), poppy seed (1.9%), cotton seed (0.9%) and rape seed (0.9%). The authors emphasised that many of the study group did not know whether they had ever ingested the seeds or were purposely avoiding the seeds as a prophylactic measure (mustard, 40%; cotton seed, 42%; poppy seed, 41%; and rape seed, 26%). (9)

b. Other reactions

Gossypol, a toxic pigment, occurs in some cultivars (it has been bred out of others) and may result in adverse reactions if ingested.

See also Cotton, crude fibres o1


Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman.


  1. Final report on the safety assessment of Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Cottonseed (Gossypium) Oil, Cottonseed Acid, Cottonseed Glyceride, and Hydrogenated Cottonseed Glyceride. Int J Toxicol 2001;20 Suppl 2:21-9.
  2. De Olano DG, Subiza JL, Civantos E. Cutaneous allergy to cotton. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2009;102(3):263-4.
  3. Yman L. Botanical relations and immunological cross-reactions in pollen allergy. 2nd ed. Pharmacia Diagnostics AB. Uppsala. Sweden. 1982: ISBN 91-970475-09.
  4. Atkins FM, Wilson M, Bock SA. Cottonseed hypersensitivity: new concerns over an old problem. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1988;82(2):242-50.
  5. O'Neil CE, Lehrer SB. Anaphylaxis apparently caused by a cottonseed-containing candy ingested on a commercial airliner. [Letter] J Allergy Clin Immunol 1989;84(3):407.
  6. Malanin G, Kalimo K. Was the candy really responsible for the anaphylaxis in a cottonseed-sensitive patient? [Letter] J Allergy Clin Immunol 1990;86(2):277-8.
  7. Malanin G, Kalimo K. Angioedema and urticaria caused by cottonseed protein in whole-grain bread. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1988;82(2):261-4.
  8. Agarkhedkar SR, Bapat HB, Bapat BN. Avoidance of food allergens in childhood asthma. Indian Pediatr 2005;42(4):362-6.
  9. Maloney JM, Rudengren M, Ahlstedt S, Bock SA, Sampson HA. The use of serum-specific IgE measurements for the diagnosis of peanut, tree nut, and seed allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2008;122(1):145-51.


As in all diagnostic testing, the diagnosis is made by the physican based on both test results and the patient history.