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Living With Oral Allergy Syndrome

oral allergy syndrome

Tens of thousands of people suffer from seasonal allergies to ragweed, grass and pollen every year, but have you ever heard of Oral Allergy Syndrome?

Me neither, until about three years ago, and I’ve suffered with it my whole life.

Faking It

When I was a child, I would complain to my mom that after I ate certain fruits or veggies, my throat would get scratchy and tight. Sometimes I’d get hives on my face. She mentioned this to the doctor during a visit for my allergy shots and they told her–get this–that I was probably making it up because I didn’t want to eat my fruits and veggies.

My mom didn’t have resources to take me to different doctors for their opinions and homeopathy was an unknown term in our house, but thank God she believed me and said we’d just avoid those food items that made my throat feel that way.

Most of my adult life I have dealt with the scratchy-throat feeling when I ate fruits, or I just avoided them.  Sometimes I could eat fruits and it wouldn’t bother me.

Being pregnant awakened something in me–the need to know more and be educated about food, nutrition and health. This awakening spurred on some research of the mysterious scratchy-throat.

Not Faking It

As it turns out, I was not faking it (I knew this but Dr. I-Know-Everything didn’t) nor was I dreaming up the feelings I was getting.

I have Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS).

Oral Allergy Syndrome is a pollen-related food allergy.  It is also referred to as Pollen-Food Allergy. Anyone can have it, but it occurs mainly in people who suffer from pollen allergies to ragweed, goldenrod, grass and trees.

Symptoms of  Oral Allergy Syndrome

Symptoms of OAS include

  • Tightening of the throat
  • Burning of the lips, throat and/or mouth.
  • An itchy sensation in the throat, ear canal or mouth is also common.
  • Sometimes swelling of the throat and mouth can occur.
  • Hives
  • Rarely you might find nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

OAS does not commonly present a danger, but anaphylaxis can occur as can low blood pressure, hives or wheezing.

For me, symptoms appear within minutes of eating the culprit food.  Once I ate some almonds and within 10 minutes, my throat was scratchy and I had hives on my face.

It can come from consumption or just touching the offending item.  I had an episode with organic Yukon gold potatoes while cutting them up for dinner.  Never have I had a reaction to potatoes before.

 

Causes and Prevention

Causes

When you have OAS, your body basically mistakes food protein (the peach, the nut, the strawberry) for pollen protein (the grass pollen, tree pollen or ragweed pollen.) Like seasonal outdoor allergies, your body produces anti-bodies that attack these proteins which cause the outward symptoms you see or feel.

There is a correlation between the type of pollen allergy and the type of fruit that trigger the OAS due to the similarities in the proteins.  For example, you eat a banana and your body thinks you just walked through a field of ragweed.

Some common correlations are as follows:

Grass Pollen: melons, figs, tomatoes, oranges

Ragweed Pollen: sunflower seeds/oil, zucchini, wildflower honey, chamomile tea, green peppers, bananas, artichoke

Birch Pollen: kiwi, bananas, almonds, apples, cherries, strawberries, wheat, peaches, pears

Alder Pollen (birch family): peaches, strawberries, raspberries, celery

I should note that not all of these foods will trigger OAS symptoms nor will the ones that do trigger symptoms trigger them all the time.  This can make having OAS frustrating and confusing because you never know when you might have a reaction.

For example, I have never had a banana cause symptoms, but fresh peaches cause them every time I eat them.  They also cause symptoms when I’m canning them.  Strawberries cause symptoms sometimes but not always, and I eat raw wildflower honey by the tablespoon with no problems.  (Actually, honey is good for seasonal allergies!)

With a few exceptions, like itchy hands when canning peaches, the reactions are localized to my face, mouth and throat, and other than the discomfort, they don’t interfere with most activities.  As a child, I remember being uncomfortable at a picnic after I’d eat a piece of fruit, but it never hinder me from having fun.

Prevention

There are several things you can do to prevent or lessen your occurrences of OAS.  I’ve found the following helpful and it keeps my OAS to a mild annoyance rather than something to worry over.

Take Extra Vitamin C – studies have shown that increased amounts of Vitamin C can lower histamine levels, thus lessening or eliminating the reaction to the food protein.

Peel your fruits and veggies – removing the skin works well for many people to eliminate OAS symptoms.

Wear gloves – I don’t do this very often (because I never have latex gloves around), but it will help keep your skin from contact so you can peel your peaches and avoid a hand reaction.

Process your fruits and veggies – You may think I’m crazy but, if I eat canned peaches I have no reaction.  If I can my own peaches I have no reaction either.  This may pose a problem for you if you are a hard core raw foodie, but slight processing of your fruits and vegetables will really help with OAS. The following methods have worked for me:

  • Dried fruits
  • Baked fruits and veggies (those Yukon golds had no effect on me after I baked them)
  • Boiled veggies (carrots boiled in water with a ton of butter…yum!!)
  • Canned fruits
  • Expose your fruit to osmosis (aka put sugar on your strawberries and let ‘em sit!)

If you’re a Real Foodie, adding sugar might not be appealing but it doesn’t have to be white sugar.  I added this white sugar alternative to my strawberries last year and I had the same great-tasting results.

Other Notes

A few other notes on Oral Allergy Syndrome

  • Sometimes things are random – like for example I cannot eat Blue Diamond Roasted Salted Almonds as they produce symptoms. I can, however, eat organic roasted almonds from our local natural food store or these Roasted Salted Almonds.
  • Oral Allergy Syndrome is not the same as a Food Allergy like shellfish or peanut allergies.

 

VeggieBook

As with any allergic reaction, you should exercise your good judgment in deciding if a doctor’s visit (MD, OD, ND, etc) is right for you or your family.  There are simple prick tests that can determine if your symptoms are OAS or not.  (You’ll test positive for allergy to pollens).

There is a small part of me that would love to go back to the allergist and say “Ahem, I was NOT faking it; you’re just a jerk.” But I don’t remember his name, he’s long since retired I’m sure and that wouldn’t be very loving of me.

Have you ever experienced Oral Allergy Syndrome? Did you know what it was and how do you deal with it?

Until Next Time,

Be Blessed

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Comments

  1. Jill Santora says:

    Thank you, my 12 yr. old likes to be healthy and OAS is really hindering this.

  2. I have this, too! My symptoms don’t present the same way as yours, but I can’t have bananas, kiwi, pineapple & mango. When I eat them, I break out in a scaly, itchy rash all over my face. I have always called it “the banana thing”, since that was the 1st to happen, about 7 years ago. I haven’t tried banana bread, pineapple cake or processed any of the others – it just makes me too nervous, so I avoid them all.

  3. THANK YOU for sharing about this! I have experienced this my entire life and didn’t know what to call it until a couple of years ago. I have a Birch issue: walnuts and pecans are definite NOs; almonds, strawberries, pineapple, hazelnuts, apples, and bananas are a “sometimes and depending on how they’re prepared and how much I eat”. You are definitely not crazy about the processing. Several of these foods (especially the pineapples and strawberries) I see drastic change if they are cooked; Others, like walnuts, anything that’s touched them is a no-go; I can eat almond flour without issue, but if I eat a handful of almonds? I’ll notice. Roast those almonds and coat them in something? usually fine. In general, I just avoid them to avoid the pain, but sometimes I suck it up because they’re delicious. It’s definitely an odd experience, but it’s nice to know I’m not alone in suffering it. PS: all allergy tests for anything (even for birch pollen) came by negative. Go figure that, huh? Add that to the list of oddities surrounding this issue 🙂

    • It’s so strange. OTC allergy meds will help the symptoms but I usually just tolerate them. I was wondering the same about the almonds. What is in/on them that makes one brand cause a reaction and not another. So strange!

  4. I don’t see how gloves would help, but I know for sure peeling doesn’t help with me. Canned fruit is just as bad if not worse. I’m not sure of any ways to cook fruit that doesn’t make them unhealthy….

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