When a Pollen Allergy Becomes a Food Allergy
By Mehmet C. Oz, MD, and Michael F. Roizen, MD
Does fall hay fever have you sneezing so badly that tissue makers are sending you thank-you notes? Then don’t be surprised if late-season watermelon and autumn’s first juicy apples make your mouth itch or your nose drip. As many as half of all people with pollen allergies react to eating certain fruits and veggies or sipping herbal teas.
That’s because some foods contain proteins that look — at least to your immune system — like the same pollen that clogs your nose and makes your eyes flood like you were at your daughter’s wedding. If you love the offending food, cooking it often neutralizes the proteins. (We don’t think broiled watermelon will tempt anyone’s palate, but baked apples with cinnamon certainly will.) Also, let your doc know about your food-pollen cross-reaction: It’s usually not a problem, but there’s new evidence that about 1 in 50 people could experience a more severe allergy attack. And, of course, if you start to gasp and wheeze, get medical help pronto.
Some common cross-allergies: If ragweed gives you the sniffles, apples, bananas, melons, cucumber, chamomile tea, echinacea, honey, and nuts may, too. If you’re allergic to bananas or latex, be alert when eating avocado or melon. Do cats make you sneeze? Okay, that’s a trick question. We haven’t heard of a feline-fava bean reaction. But, hey, as everyone with allergies knows, anything is possible.
Pollen allergy and food
People with pollen allergy may experience allergic symptoms when they eat certain nuts, fruits, and vegetables.
Individuals suffering from pollen allergy experience symptoms in the period when the pollen they are allergic to is in the air. Allergy towards pollen typically shows up as hay fever with sneezing, a running nose and eyes at the same time as an annoying itch. The nose can also become blocked making it hard to breathe. Occasionally pollen allergy can also show up as asthma.
Cross-reactions with foods
Pollen allergic people can also experience allergic symptoms when they eat certain nuts, fruits, and vegetables. The body reacts because it cannot distinguish between the substances in pollen causing allergy and similar substances in foods. This is called cross-reactions or cross allergy.
An uncomfortable itching and a slight swelling of the lips, mouth, and throat are the most common symptoms when people react to foods that are cross-reacting with pollen. Some may experience that it itches all the way to the ears. Less common symptoms include nettle rash, asthma and symptoms in the gastro-intestinal tract. Very few experience eczema on their hands when they touch the offending foods.
Some people with pollen allergy get symptoms all the year round if they eat foods that are cross-reacting with pollen. Others only experience symptoms in the pollen season.
It is also possible to experience allergic symptoms from nuts, fruits, or vegetables without being allergic to pollen.