Both the spring and fall bring their own set of allergies. Allergists are having a field day treating patients with hay fever and aversion to ragweed. But horrible puns aside, pollen allergies are no joke.
Up to 70 percent of those with pollen allergies experience unpleasant reactions after eating certain foods. In a food-pollen allergy, the primary problem is the pollen, not the food itself.
When certain fresh fruits, raw vegetables, seeds or nuts are consumed, typically during spring and early fall when inhalant allergies are more common like hay fever, the body's immune system recognizes and essentially mistakes a plant protein in the food for pollen, and this irritant triggers what allergy specialists call a cross-reaction.
For people who experience what's called "oral allergy syndrome" (OAS; also referred to as "food-pollen allergy syndrome" and "fruit-pollen syndrome"), the following symptoms may occur after eating the offending food:
- itchy or swollen lips
- tingling at the back of the throat
- scratchiness on the roof of the mouth
- watery or itchy eyes
“[OAS] may affect up to 5 percent of the population, and is clearly more prevalent among those with seasonal pollen allergies, specifically those who have an allergic sensitivity to tree, weed and/or grass pollen,” Clifford Bassett, MD, founder and medical director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York, and assistant clinical professor of medicine at NYU School of Medicine, told Reader's Digest.
Although symptoms can be serious, most reactions of OAS are minor and occur in the mouth or throat.
Which foods should I avoid?
It depends what tree or weed allergy you have. For those allergic to grass pollens, you’ll want to avoid:
As noted above, foods that cause a pollen-like allergic reaction are usually fresh or raw. If you love oranges but notice they cause a reaction, orange juice, although it's not as nutritiously-dense as an orange, might not cause the reaction. Same thing with tomatoes: Freshly picked ones from the vine might cause an itchy throat, but tomato paste might not trigger a negative reaction.
If you're allergic to weed pollens, specifically ragweed, the following foods may trigger OAS:
- teas of Echinacea, chamomile and hibiscus
If you eat something that triggers allergies, you'll notice symptoms almost immediately. Most allergists would agree that OAS symptoms appear no more than half an hour after eating.
"Patients will typically decide on their own, without any discussion with a doctor, whether they enjoy the apple enough to put up with an itchy mouth, or whether they hate the itchy mouth enough to avoid the apple," Dr. Robert Wood, chief of pediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, told CNN.
What else can I do to avoid OAS?
Eliminate or greatly reduce artificial additives, artificial sweeteners and pesticides, as they could potentially cause bronchial spasms and histamine reactions of the eyes, ears, nose, throat and skin.
Also, boost your immune system. The weaker your immunity, the more likely your body will experience a cross reaction. Drink plenty of water, exercise daily, get at least 7 hours of sleep a night and supplement with anti-oxidants (under the care of a doctor or nutritionist).
If you use anti-allergy medicine, try to choose natural anti-inflammatory and natural anti-histamine nutritional supplements.
During allergy seasons, consume more cooked vegetables and try to eliminate the offending raw fruits. Use a food journal to determine which foods are triggering allergic reactions.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in May 2011.