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Itchy Mouth From Fresh Fruits and Vegetables? You May Have Oral Allergy Syndrome

Valerie is pursuing a degree in Creative Writing and enjoys cooking, medical topics, flash fiction, fashion, culture, and politics.

Display of fruits and vegetables that may cause a cross-reaction.

Display of fruits and vegetables that may cause a cross-reaction.

An Apple a Day May Send You to the Doctor

If you're like me and have experienced itching and swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, or throat after eating a fresh piece of fruit or a salad, you may be suffering from Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS). It is also sometimes referred to as Pollen Allergy Syndrome.

All my childhood and teenage years were filled with days of enjoying fruit and vegetables. I loved them all: cherries, apples, pears, peaches, fresh pineapple, and oh my, watermelon. I would add apples to salads, eat cucumbers soaked in vinegar, and I adored fresh broccoli and cauliflower dipped in ranch dressing. Those days are long behind me, however, and it's all due to a sensitivity I have to certain pollens.

Symptoms of Oral Allergy Syndrome

Anytime something is introduced to the body that you are allergic or sensitive to; there is usually a general feeling of malaise until it has gone through your body. Symptoms of OAS can vary from person to person, but the most common are itching, burning, or swelling of the lips, tongue, mouth, or throat. Other symptoms that are not as common include:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Worsening eczema or dermatitis
  • Asthmatic flare-up or exacerbation
  • Anaphylaxis (call 911 immediately)

People Who Are Most at Risk

Food allergies are very common in young children, but OAS usually develops over time and most often rears its ugly head in their 20s or 30s. Some individuals can experience this allergy while still in their teenage years. Here are people who have the highest risk of developing OAS:

  • People who suffer from seasonal allergies (hay fever), sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes.
  • People with known allergies to air pollens such as ragweed, mugwort, birch trees, and certain grasses.
  • People with a Latex allergy.
If you're allergic to the pollen in the air, then you may have a cross-reaction with fruits and vegetables.

If you're allergic to the pollen in the air, then you may have a cross-reaction with fruits and vegetables.

Interesting Facts About OAS

  • One-third of hay fever sufferers have OAS.
  • About 2% of OAS sufferers may experience anaphylaxis.
  • Most people with OAS also suffer from asthma, other food allergies, and eczema.
  • "Organic" fruit STILL has the same proteins in it. Don't waste your money if you have OAS.

What Is a Cross-Reaction?

The easiest way to explain cross-reaction is to imagine that there are lots and lots of pollen allergens flying through the air. Some people are allergic to these pollens. Those very same people who are allergic to these pollens have their immune systems working overtime and develop sensitivities to the proteins found in fresh fruits and vegetables.

Basically, your body is already having an allergic reaction to whatever pollen is in the air. It makes your nose run, your eyes water and itch, and you start sneezing. When these pollen irritants are crossed with the proteins in certain fruits and vegetables, you can have an OAS reaction.

Common Cross-Reactions

Pollen AllergensFresh Fruit and Vegetable Cross-Reaction

Birch Trees

Almonds, Apples, Apricots, Carrots, Celery, Cherries, Coriander, Fennel, Hazelnuts, Kiwi, Parsley, Peaches, Peas, Plums, Potatoes

 

 

Ragweed

Bananas, Cantaloupe, Cucumbers, Chamomile Tea, Echinacea Tea, Honeydew, Sunflower Seeds, Tomatoes, Watermelon, Zucchini

 

 

Mugwort

Carrots, Celery

 

 

Grasses

Melons, Oranges, Peaches, Tomatoes

 

 

Latex Allergy

Bananas, Kiwi, Avocado, Chestnuts

Other Foods to Avoid If You Have OAS

  • Fruit Salads
  • Banana Pudding
  • Banana Splits
  • Fruit Smoothies
  • Fruit Parfaits (unless used with "processed fruit")
  • Fresh Fruit Juices (i.e. fresh squeezed orange juice or fresh lemonade)
  • Cereal, Yogurt, or Pancakes with fresh fruit

What You Can Do to Avoid OAS Reactions

To avoid reactions, you can boil, sauté, bake, or stir-fry the fruit or vegetable. This is because the proteins that cause the allergic reaction break down during the cooking process. People with OAS may not be able to eat fresh cherries, but they may be able to eat cherry pie filling. Likewise, processed foods, such as applesauce is usually tolerated by people with OAS unless you have an allergy to apples. Here are some alternatives for people living with OAS:

  1. Avoid fresh fruit and vegetables altogether. Believe me, it's not worth the risk, and it's no fun experiencing the itching and swelling. Play it safe.
  2. Fresh green salads may very well be off limits. Find other ways to supplement your daily vegetables with canned or frozen green beans, spinach, corn, etc.
  3. Replace fresh fruits with canned fruits in light syrup, baked fruit pies, or blended fruit yogurts.
  4. Don't be fooled by tough skin! Even watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew can still bother you. Peeling the skin off apples, peaches, etc. will not help because the proteins are in the entire fruit.
  5. See an allergist and a dermatologist. They can do a skin test to determine which pollens, fruits, and vegetables cause you to have a cross-reaction. You may be able to eat one type of fresh fruit but not another.
  6. Check into getting allergy shots. This has been helpful for some OAS sufferers. Also, discuss with your doctor whether or not you should carry an EpiPen if you have severe allergic reactions.

Websites for Food Allergy Sufferers

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Your Comments and Suggestions Are Appreciated!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on November 26, 2012:

A well written and explained hub not many people know what causes their allergies you have mentioned it directly

Valerie Washington (author) from Tempe, Arizona on November 07, 2012:

Hi 2uesday - for a long time, I thought it was the chemicals and pesticides applied to fruits and vegetables. In the beginning, I would rinse them off before eating. Eventually, however, after a while, this didn't help. Thanks for stopping by!

2uesday on November 04, 2012:

Sometimes reactions to eating fruit might be caused by a salicylate sensitivity. The Feingold gold diet lists which fruit fall into this category.

It could also be caused by some of the sprays and chemicals applied to fruit when it is growing or before it is dispatched to be sold.

Valerie Washington (author) from Tempe, Arizona on September 16, 2012:

Thanks, vespawolf...I suffered from this for so many years without an explanation. There are probably millions of people out there in the world with these symptoms and have no idea what is going on or how to prevent it. Thanks so much for commenting and sharing!

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on September 16, 2012:

My mother suffers from ragweed allergies and she has reactions to certain fruits, as well. I have a friend who can't get near a mango for the same reason! This is a very well-written and interesting hub. I especially find the allergy chart helpful. The explanation as to why this happens was fascinating as well. Thanks so much! Voted up and shared.

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on September 03, 2012:

Thank you for sharing this useful information.

Marisa Hammond Olivares from Texas on September 02, 2012:

Very interesting. We have a student experiencing this and we've been having to be very vigilant in the cafeteria with her. A friend of mine experienced this as well. All of a sudden, in her twenties, she became allergic to what seemed like everything. It took them a while to pinpoint the specific foods. I remember her being really frustrated. Thanks for the info.