For years, my son and I have suffered from problems that have gone undiagnosed, but which we always suspected were allergies. Regularly, and for no reason that doctors could determine, the throat constricts, causing choking problems when eating. My son also has problems with his mouth and throat getting itchy and uncomfortable when he eats certain foods. While this sure sounds like allergies, no doctor has ever been able to explain to me how this occurs only some of the time, and not consistently.
Today, I read a press release from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) about Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS), which may explain a number of mysterious allergy symptoms that show up when you eat certain foods. Up to one-third of people with seasonal allergies may suffer from this syndrome, which results from a cross-reactivity between seasonal airborne pollen proteins (from weeds, grass and trees) and similar proteins in some fresh fruits and vegetables.
It is the interaction of these proteins that is causing the problem.
Common symptoms of this problem -- also known as "pollen-food syndrome" -- include itchiness, tingling or swelling of the mouth, tongue and throat immediately after eating fresh fruits, vegetables and certain kinds of other foods. In some cases, as in my family, severe throat swelling or even a systemic reaction can occur.
People with ragweed pollen allergies might experience symptoms if they eat foods such as bananas, cucumbers, melons, zucchini, sunflower seeds, chamomile tea and Echinacea. Those who have birch tree pollen allergies may experience OAS symptoms if they eat food such as peaches, apples, pears, cherries, carrots, hazelnuts, kiwi fruit or almonds.
As the AAAAI now recognizes, the best way to eliminate the problem is by cooking these foods, which reduces or prevents the allergic reaction that results from the protein/protein interaction. This organization recommends that you consult an allergist/immunologist if you are experiencing any of these typical symptoms of OAS:
- itchy mouth from raw fruits or vegetables;
- prolonged or severe symptoms of rhinitis;
- nasal polyps;
- co-existing conditions such as asthma or recurrent sinusitis;
- symptoms that interfere with your quality of life and/or ability to function, such as choking or difficulty eating;
For my family, we've found medications to be ineffective. Other people have had adverse reactions to medications. In both of these cases, the AAAAI recommends the immunologist or allergist, especially for children with allergic rhinitis. It seems that if you begin a course of immunotherapy early enough, this often prevents the development of asthma in that child later in life.