When people think of food allergies, they typically imagine "The Big Eight." But the truth is, in adults, reactions to fruits and vegetables are far more common. This is because fruits and vegetables contain proteins that are similar to those found in pollens. People sensitive to pollen proteins often find that they "cross react" when eating certain fruits and vegetables.
For example, your tongue may swell or your lips might start to tingle when you eat an apple, but you know that you aren't allergic to apples. Why is this? It may be oral allergy syndrome.
Oral allergy syndrome:
Apples are among some of the most common fruits to cause allergic reactions in people with traditional pollen allergies. This type of allergy is referred to as oral allergy syndrome and usually affects people who have seasonal allergies and hay fever. When you eat something like an apple, which is made of similar protein to the pollen you are allergic to, your body responds in the same way as if you came in contact with the pollen itself.
Signs and symptoms:
If you have oral allergy syndrome, the signs and symptoms can be pretty irritating. The first symptoms usually occur soon after biting into some fresh fruit or veggies and can include an itchy mouth and gums, scratchy throat, swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, and throat. Since symptoms rarely stick around long after the food is swallowed, you need to be aware of the signals while you eat.
While you are having a reaction to certain foods, you might want to take note of how you feel to help your doctor get to the bottom of the situation as quickly as possible. Is it just in your throat? Do you feel this way every time you eat an apple, or just sometimes? Where did you buy your produce? All of these answers give big clues as to where your allergy could be coming from.
If you experience itchy gums and tingly lips every time you eat a fresh apple, you may want to think about how you prepared that apple. Did you throw it in your bag this morning without washing it and grab it as a snack later on in the day? If so, your reaction most likely has to do with a pollen allergy.
Oral allergy syndrome is most common among patients allergic to birch pollen. If birch pollen is your trigger, you also need to be careful when you eat raw pears, kiwi, cherries, plums, peaches, celery, carrots, and even almonds. If you are allergic to another kind of pollen, like grass pollen or ragweed, you will need to be careful of reactions with a whole different set of food.
Here's a list of the most common pollens that trigger oral allergy syndrome:
• Birch pollen: apples, pears, cherries, plums, almonds
• Grass pollen: figs, oranges, tomatoes
• Ragweed: bananas, melons, zucchini
• Mugwort: celery, fennel, carrots
How to handle it:
If you have experienced symptoms from specific types of food in the past, the best next step should be going to visit your allergist. After discussing your history, your doctor will probably want to do a skin prick test and certain oral food challenges with raw fruits or vegetables. When the results show an allergy to at least one particular type of pollen or food, it becomes a lot easier to map out a plan to alter your diet and lifestyle and reduce frequent symptoms.
The good news:
With oral allergy syndrome, there is a possibility that you may still be able to enjoy foods that cause reactions after they are peeled and/or cooked. If apples are giving you a problem, try to peel and slice them before you eat them. Test out foods like apple pie and applesauce too and assess how you feel during and after you eat.
The best advice for any food related allergy is to avoid what you are allergic to as often as possible and talk to your doctor to create a plan that you want to follow.
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