If you’re inclined to spend March through October indoors, do laundry more frequently than you wish, carry a bottle of nasal spray with you at all times, and start each day by quickly browsing pollen counts online, we’re going to help you confirm a hunch. First, a question: have you ever felt your mouth get itchy after enjoying certain types of fruits and vegetables? Or how about your ears? If you’re an allergy sufferer, and could always swear you experience an allergic reaction to certain fruits, nuts and vegetables, you’re probably right. You just might have what’s called “Oral Allergy Syndrome.” Read on.
What is Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS)?
OAS is a food-related allergy to certain proteins located in specific fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts. It’s also known as both food-pollen allergy syndrome and fruit-pollen syndrome, and it affects about 25% of people with “common” allergies. The reason you experience a reaction to these foods is that there are food proteins in fruits, nuts and vegetables that closely resemble those contained in tree and weed pollen.
As a result, the immune system recognizes the proteins as an allergen and triggers the release of histamine. And we all know what happens after that! The all-too-familiar itchy, scratchy, burning sensation that tells us we’ve stumbled onto something our body doesn’t like very much. For most people with OAS, the effects are most often localized to the mouth, but can sometimes also be felt in the back of the throat, eyes, ears, nose and skin. Scientists refer to this response of the immune system to a related, but not identical allergen, as cross-reactivity.
A List of Common Offenders
- If you’re allergic to alder pollen: almonds, apples, celery, cherries, hazel nuts, peaches, pears, parsley, strawberry, and raspberry
- Birch pollen: almonds, apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, carrots, celery, cherries, chicory, coriander, fennel, fig, hazel nuts, kiwifruit, nectarines, parsley, parsnips, peaches, pears, peppers, plums, potatoes, prunes, soy, strawberries, wheat; Potential: walnuts
- Grass pollen: fig, melons, tomatoes, oranges
- Mugwort pollen: carrots, celery, coriander, fennel, parsley, peppers, and sunflower
- Ragweed pollen: banana, cantaloupe, cucumber, green pepper, paprika, sunflower seeds/oil, honeydew, watermelon, zucchini, Echinacea, artichoke, dandelions, honey (if bees pollinate from wild flowers), hibiscus or chamomile tea
Reducing the Symptoms
- Keep a food diary: Make note of specific food triggers. You may find, for example, that different varieties of the same fruit trigger a lesser response than another of the same variety. For example, Granny Smith vs. Jonagold apples.
- Peel the fruit first: For some this works, and if you’re concerned at all about pesticides, this helps decrease that threat as well.
- Purchase and eat fresh: For some, the fresher, the better. Storage can increase the allergens in some fruits.
- Cook ‘em up: Cooking changes the shapes of these offending proteins, keeping the immune response in check. So make pie instead of eating apples raw!
- Get the shot: Occasionally, allergy shots can provide relief from OAS reactions, so ask your allergist if it’s right for you.
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