A mouthful of symptomsFood allergy symptoms can be similar to common seasonal allergies. But diagnostic tests that reliably confirm a seasonal allergy rarely confirmed a food allergy. But why? Food allergies are common enough. And although some come with dire reactions, many of the more typical reactions—itchy, watery eyes, sneezes, hives, rashes, constant runny nose—really disrupt people’s lives. Especially when the symptoms aren’t seasonal, but persist year-round. A key insight emerged when experts nailed down what made these new food allergies different than seasonal allergies—the first symptoms people reported were swelling and itchiness of the lips, mouth, tongue, and throat immediately after eating a certain fruit, vegetable, seed, or nut. That wasn’t the way typical seasonal allergies announce themselves.
Connecting the dotsThe new phenomenon earned a name of its own: oral allergy syndrome. And it’s now estimated that more than 60 percent of all food allergies are somehow associated with seasonal allergies. That’s a lot of discomfort for a lot of people. But how to connect the dots? Enough data came in to show that common seasonal allergies were definitely connected to allergic reactions to certain foods:
|Seasonal Allergy||Associated Food Allergy|
|Birch pollen||Apple | Almond | Carrot | Celery |Cherry| Hazelnut |Kiwi |Peach |Pear | Plum|
|Grass pollen||Celery |Melons |Oranges | Peaches | Tomato|
|Ragweed pollen||Banana | Cucumber |Melons | Sunflower | Zucchini|
It’s cross-reactivityOur immune system is fearless, diligent, and powerful. It’s on the job 24 hours a day, every day, throwing its best protective and destructive stuff at every unwanted intruder. But sometimes, it mistakes a harmless presence—a food, for example—for a dangerous one. The result is “friendly fire,” good guys attacking good guys. But still…why? Now we know. When a seasonal allergy sufferer eats an associated “trigger” fruit, nut, seed, or vegetable, the immune system sees familiar proteins—very similar to those associated with the underlying seasonal allergies themselves. So our rapid response immunity team leaps into fight mode, in a process called cross-reactivity. The outcome of the battle is an allergic reaction. What’s not yet understood is the seemingly random timing—why the immune system suddenly decides that what we’ve eaten for years is a threat. Research will eventually find ways to obstruct or eliminate oral allergy syndrome. Meanwhile, here’s what various experts recommend to keep it at bay.
Keep your fingers off the triggersObviously, the surest way to prevent an oral allergic reaction is to avoid your trigger foods. Fortunately, there are ways to “de-fang” your trigger foods so you can still enjoy them. Peel first. A great many reaction-causing proteins reside in a fruit or vegetable’s skin. Just peeling them before eating—wearing gloves—can reduce the likelihood or intensity of a reaction.
- Fruit juice alone, without the whole fruit’s flesh and skin, is little more than liquid sugar that tastes good—and lacks the whole plant’s fibers. Also, by pressing, you may activate enzymes and protein that change the nutritional profile.
- Many commercial smoothies contain raw, unpasteurized juices or purees that might be among your trigger foods.
- All sorts of breakfast cereals, trail mixes, energy bars, and the like contain nuts, or were processed in a plant where nuts have also been processed.
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- Conneally, Erin Leigh. “End Seasonal Allergies.” Newport Natural Health. Updated March 18, 2014. Last accessed August 20, 2017.