Do you feel like Tarzan going into the jungle when you head into your garden to pick zucchini? An abundant harvest of zucchini from the garden doesn’t come without a cost. For some people, touching the plants can result in allergic contact dermatitis, an inflammation of the skin. For others, eating zucchini can cause oral allergy syndrome (OAS), an irritation of the lips, tongue, mouth or throat.
Touching the leaves, stems or zucchini squash while harvesting may produce a red, dotty, itchy rash, known as allergic contact dermatitis. This rash is caused by direct contact with the prickly hairs on the vines of zucchini plants and its relatives, including cucumbers, other types of squash and pumpkins. The rash usually appears on the arms, hands, or wherever contact was made with the plant.
To avoid getting a rash, wear clothing which protects your arms, hands and legs when doing harvesting. Treat a rash by washing the skin with cold water and a mild soap. The rash, while annoying, should go away in about an hour. If not, apply an over-the-counter corticosteroid cream to reduce inflammation and relieve the itching.
Trimming back your bushy zucchini plants may allow you to pick the squash with less contact with the leaves. Trim leaves carefully to avoid removing too many flowers or robbing growing flowers of the shade they need. Start with dead leaves first. Then, cut off additional large and outer leaves but make sure you remove the entire stalk. Another option would be to use stakes and twine to contain the zucchini plants. They will grow up rather than out.
Consuming your bountiful zucchini harvest can be challenging but especially for those who have 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.
OAS is kind of combined pollen-food attack. Your immune system recognizes a similarity between pollens in the air and what you’ve just eaten from the garden, and produces an allergic reaction.
Zucchini reactions are usually associated with cross reactions with ragweed pollen in the air during the late summer and fall. Avoid reactions by cooking, dehydrating or canning the zucchini before eating. 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.
OAS occurs in about one-third of those with allergies. Adults are affected more than children. In some cases, OAS is an indication of a food allergy to zucchini which is rare. Other allergy symptoms caused by eating zucchini include diarrhea, nausea, itchy rash or hives.