Health Team

Foods can trigger pollen-like allergies

Posted March 11, 2011 5:40 p.m. EST
Updated March 11, 2011 6:17 p.m. EST

— What some allergy sufferers eat, including fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts, can make their allergy symptoms even worse, according to experts.

"The food contains certain proteins that are similar in nature to the pollens, and the body confuses the two and it reacts as if you're having an allergy attack in your mouth or throat," said Dr. Clifford Bassett, medical director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York.

The condition is known as oral allergy syndrome. It's not an allergic reaction to the food itself but rather a "cross reaction," Bassett said.

Symptoms include itchiness or tingling on the lips or in the mouth and throat. About one-third of allergy sufferers get it.

In the spring, tree pollen can trigger reactions to fruits like apples and oranges and vegetables like celery and peppers. In the fall, bananas and cucumbers can be a problem for people allergic to ragweed.

"Bananas are a big culprit. Almonds oddly enough, various nuts, hazelnuts as well," said Lukus Hasenstab, who has allergies almost year-round. "I'm allergic to pretty much anything in nature – trees, the pollen."

Allergists are predicting one of the worst allergy seasons in more than a decade this spring, but Bassett said there is a way people with allergies can avoid problems with what they eat.

"If you peel the food or cook the food, a lot of times we can knock out the protein, and the symptoms go away or are less pronounced," he said.

Allergists say it's also important to get the right diagnosis because some people confuse oral allergy syndrome with food allergies, which can be much more serious and may need immediate attention.

Hasenstab said he sticks to what he knows is safe to eat so he isn't sorry after a meal.

"I work in a restaurant and I love food, so to have to really think about what I'm about to eat is kind of challenging," he said.