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Oral allergy syndrome

Enjoying the fresh fruits and vegetables of the season should be a pleasurable experience. Not so, for many seasonal allergy sufferers who have oral allergy syndrome (OAS), an itching, tingling, burning or swelling of the lips, tongue, throat or mouth which results from a cross reaction between the protein in certain raw foods and plant pollens.

Basically, OAS works like this. You eat something like a bowl of strawberries or a ripe tomato, just plucked from your garden. Your immune system recognizes a similarity between pollens in the air and what you’ve just eaten and produces an allergic reaction, kind of a combined pollen-food attack.

In most cases, reactions are mild and occur within minutes of eating the offending food, and last a few seconds or minutes. Other symptoms may include watery and itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing. Approximately nine percent of individuals have more severe symptoms, including gastrointestinal problems (nausea, diarrhea) or skin allergies (contact dermatitis, hives, itching). About two percent may experience anaphylaxis, a life-threatening response.

Only we “lucky” individuals who are sensitive to pollen can experience OAS, which occurs in about one-third of those with allergies. Adults are affected more than children.

Symptoms tend to be worse during spring and fall pollen seasons. During the grass pollen season, I can’t eat some of my favorite fruits without having an itchy throat. Ragweed season produces more of the same. The worst offenders are my favorites, strawberries and raspberries, which I have growing in my garden. Yes, pure torture but fortunately, cooking or processing the problem foods, in most cases, eliminates the reaction.

Cross reactions are more likely with the following food and plant combinations:
•Grasses: tomatoes, potatoes, peaches, melon, oranges, celery.
•Ragweed: melons, bananas, cucumbers, zucchini, dandelion, chamomile tea.
•Birch: potatoes, carrots, celery, parsnips, peppers, cherries, apple, pears, plums, peaches, kiwi, apricots, fennel, parsley, coriander, hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts.
•Alder: celery, pears, apples, cherries, peaches, parsley, almonds, hazelnuts.
•Mugwort (a weed): celery, carrots, various spices, apples, kiwis, fennel, peanuts, sunflower.
•Any of the above may react with: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, other berries, citrus, grapes, mango, figs, peanuts, pineapple, pomegranate, watermelon.

The treatment is simple. Eat your fruits and veggies cooked instead of fresh. In addition, antihistamines and allergy shots may lessen symptoms.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Sheree Welshimer. All rights reserved.
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