If it happens to you, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. A fresh fruit salad, a slice of juicy tomato, or a glass of orange juice can result in an itchy feeling in your mouth and throat, swelling of the lips, or the appearance of hives. The reactions, which are normally over within 15 minutes, likely isn’t enough to stop you from indulging in tasty, fresh produce, but what does it mean?
Believe it or not, these mild allergic reactions, called oral allergy syndrome or pollen-food syndrome, aren’t due to food allergies as you may have assumed. They’re actually a symptom of seasonal pollen allergies or hay fever, and the type of food that sets you off is a clue as to which type of pollen you’re allergic to. You may even notice your oral allergies are worse during the times of year you experience seasonal allergies.
That’s because the proteins in the fruit and vegetables mimic the plant pollens that cause allergies. Your immune system confuses these food proteins for the pollens it’s actually allergic to. Because it’s not the pollen itself causing the reaction, testing for seasonal allergies may come up negative. Dr. Carah Santos, an allergist at National Jewish Health in Denver, told NPR, “I do think that this is one of the most underreported and underrecognized conditions.”
Which type of pollen am I allergic to?
You’re allergic to spring tree pollen (birch) if you have reactions after eating …
- Almond, apple, apricot, carrots, celery, cherry, coriander, fennel, hazelnut, kiwi, nectarine, parsley, parsnip, peach, pear, pepper, plum, potato, prune, and walnut
You’re allergic to summer grass pollen (timothy, orchard) if you have reactions after eating …
- Cantaloupe, celery, honeydew, melon, orange, peach, tomato, and watermelon
You’re allergic to fall weed pollen (mugwort, ragweed) if you have reactions after eating …
- Apple, banana, black pepper, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupe, caraway, carrot, celery, chamomile tea, coriander, cucumber, dandelion, fennel, honeydew, kiwi, parsley, peach, peanut, pepper, sunflower seeds, watermelon, and zucchini
But just knowing which pollens you’re allergic to won’t do you a lot of good unless you know how to prevent the irritating, itchy reactions.
Home Remedies for Oral Allergy Syndrome
- Avoid the foods that cause reactions. You may be able to sidestep oral allergy syndrome by consuming trigger foods cooked instead of raw. (If celery bothers you, though, cooking it won’t make a difference.)
- Peeling raw foods can help keep oral allergies to a minimum.
- An over-the-counter antihistamine can keep pollen-food syndrome at bay.
- During times of the year when you’re most prone to allergies, stick to canned fruit and veggies.
- Use a saline nasal spray to soothe inflamed passages.
It may not be possible for you to completely avoid oral allergy syndrome reaction, but armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better prepared to deal with or prevent it.
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