Did You Know Your Seasonal Allergies Can Be Triggered by Totally Unrelated Foods?
Interestingly (and unfortunately), this isn’t the only way our bodies can be hurt by pollen, though. Even if you don’t have any allergies to food, what you eat could actually trigger your pollen allergy.
We’re talking about pollen food allergy syndrome, aka having an allergic reaction to a food that contains proteins similar to those in allergenic trees and weeds. And it affects 50 percent of people with seasonal allergies, though many don’t know it. That’s a huge number!
“It’s a case of mistaken identity,” allergy specialist Atoosa Kourosh, MD, previously explained to Well+Good. “The proteins in the cell walls of pollen are so similar biochemically to those in the cell walls of certain foods that the body mistakes the food for an allergen. For those with the allergy, eating the food is like eating a mouthful of pollen.”
The types of pollen you’re allergic to play a role in your “problem foods,” so to speak. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, the most common pollen/food connections are:
Birch pollen: apple, almond, carrot, celery, cherry, hazelnut, kiwi, peach, pear, and plum
Grass pollen: celery, melons, oranges, peaches, and tomato
Ragweed pollen: banana, cucumber, melons, sunflower seeds, and zucchini
But if so many people don’t know they have this syndrome, how are you supposed to find out if it could be affecting you? And if you do have it, does that mean you can never eat those fruits and veggies again?
Signs you may have pollen food allergy syndrome
According to Purvi Parikh, MD, allergist and spokesperson with the Allergy & Asthma Network, the main symptom to look for is an “itchy mouth or throat with various fruits or vegetables, and even some nuts.” However, it is possible that you can eat those foods without problems as long as they're cooked or heated (more on that, below). So the tomatoes in marinara sauce, for instance, likely won’t trigger this reaction, but snacking on raw cherry tomatoes might.
“Many people do not realize there is a connection and assume it’s a true food allergy,” Dr. Parikh says. This is particularly true since this sometimes doesn't develop until adolescence or adulthood—or even later in life. (Just another reason why being mindful of how your body feels while eating benefits you in more ways than one—just saying!)
How to manage pollen food allergy syndrome
Worrying you may have this is valid, and Dr. Parikh shares some fairly good news that may lessen your concerns.
First, heating or cooking these foods can decrease the chance of symptoms since heat breaks down the proteins that are causing the allergic reaction, she explains. (Hey, I would argue that baked apples taste better anyway!) Dr. Parikh also notes that foods with only the flavoring—such as a melon-flavored piece of candy—don’t typically cause issues.
If you do experience an itchy mouth or throat, Dr. Parikh encourages you to stay calm. If that’s your only symptom, an antihistamine can probably resolve the issue and help you feel better, she says.
Signs of an actual food allergy (which is different from a food sensitivity), on the other hand, warrant immediate medical attention. According to Dr. Parikh, those symptoms include skin rashes, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness, wheezing, chest tightness, and swelling of the lips and tongue.
At the end of the day, while pollen and pollen food allergy syndrome can disrupt your life in irritating ways, remember that you're still in control. With medicine and a little cooking, you should be just fine.
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