Cochineal carmine, or simply carmine (E120), is a red colouring that is obtained from the dried bodies of the female insect Dactylopius Coccus Costa (the cochineal insect).
We have evaluated the prevalence of sensitization and asthma caused by carmine in a factory using natural colouring, following the diagnosis of two workers with occupational asthma.
The accumulated incidence of sensitization and occupational asthma due to carmine in this factory are 48.1% and 18.5% respectively, figures that make the introduction of preventive measures obligatory.
Occupational asthma caused by inhaling carmine should be considered as a further example of the capacity of certain protein particles of arthropods (in this case cochineal insects) to act as aeroallergens. Carmine should be added to the list of agents capable of producing occupational asthma, whose mechanism, according to our studies, would be immunological mediated by IgE antibodies in the face of diverse allergens of high molecular weight, which can vary from patient to patient. Nonetheless, given the existence of different components in carmine, it cannot be ruled out that substances of low molecular weight, such as carminic acid, might act as haptenes.
Besides, since we are dealing with a colouring that is widely used as a food additive, as a pharmaceutical excipient and in the composition of numerous cosmetics, it is not surprising that allergic reactions can appear both through ingestion and through direct cutaneous contact.
We find ourselves facing a new example of an allergen that can act through both inhalation and digestion, giving rise to an allergolical syndrome that can show itself clinically with expressions of both respiratory allergy and alimentary allergy.
Key words. Occupational asthma. Inhalative provocation. Prevalence. Accumulated incidence. Natural colouring. Carmine. Cochineal insect.
Ana Isabel Tabar Purroy
Sección de Alergia. Hospital Virgen del Camino
CS Conde Oliveto.
Pza de la Paz s/n.
Tfno: 948429308; Fax: 948429271