That Reaction to Eating Fruit May Not Be an Allergy

An expert shares what can cause a reaction to eating plums, apples, bananas and other fruit or vegetables.

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Do you bite into an apple, plum, or peach and get that itchy feeling in your mouth? That actually may not be an allergy, but rather something called oral allergy syndrome. Here’s a look at what’s really going on in your body, and a few things you can do about it.

What’s Oral Allergy Syndrome?

Oral allergy syndrome (OAS) is also called pollen-food syndrome. It occurs when folks who are allergic to pollen eat raw fruits or veggies that have proteins similar to pollens. This triggers a response when the food in eaten. Symptoms tend to be limited to the mouth and include itching, tingling, and a small amount of swelling. The symptoms tend to go away a few minutes after the food is swallowed or removed from the mouth.

"Oral allergy syndrome is not the same thing as an IgE-mediated food allergy," explains Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RDN, LD consultant for National Peanut Board. "While IgE-mediated food allergies can cause a host of negative symptoms and may affect any organ system — even causing life-threatening reactions, OAS is generally confined to the mouth and is not life-threatening."

Which Foods are Associated with OAS?

According to Collins, OAS is associated with environmental allergies and perhaps cross reaction to pollens. Some of the most common oral allergies are associated with an allergy to birch, grass, and ragweed. If you have an allergy to birch, you may find you have an oral allergy to apple, carrots, peaches, plums, cherries, pears, almonds and hazelnut. If you have an allergy to grasses, you may find your mouth is itchy after eating tomatoes. And an allergy to ragweed is associated with an oral allergy to melons, zucchini, kiwi and bananas.

Collins recommends that anytime someone suspects an allergy, they get evaluated by a board-certified allergist. "These doctors are specially trained to help diagnose allergies and can help ensure that the allergy really is only oral allergy syndrome and not a more severe IgE-mediated allergy," she says.

What’s a Produce Lover to do?

If your doctor deems it safe to consume these fruits and vegetables and that it is OAS, there are a few things you can do to prevent the symptoms. Collins recommends that people enjoy these foods peeled or cooked if possible, rather than eliminating them altogether which would take out important nutrients that these foods provide. As the proteins are sensitive to heat, folks with OAS tend to have no problem eating these foods cooked verses raw. Of course, if you do find that the food is causing discomfort you can opt to avoid them completely.

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