Tree Pollen and Food Allergies... "The Forbidden Fruits"

The weather is gorgeous on this Mother’s Day, and I hope all of you are able to spend this day with loved ones. I know this has been a difficult time for patients with spring tree pollen allergy. After all the rain we experienced a few weeks ago, the tree pollen has sky-rocketed to very high levels. The most common symptoms I have been seeing in the office are: red, swollen eyes and severe nasal congestion. The red, swollen and itchy eyes are particularly bad for children who just keep rubbing their eyes and irritating them more. In many cases, I have to resort to oral cortisone for a few days or the whole week to bring them relief.

The prescription eye drops are helpful, but when the tree pollen counts are super high even these eye medications are not enough. Children and adult patients also complain of the annoying symptoms of an itchy throat during this time. This can be a very tough symptom to treat. I sometimes recommend that children, as well as adults swish in the back of their throat an oral antihistamine liquid: e.g. Benadryl, Claritin or Zyrtec. This swish, gargle and spit method can provide some temporary relief.

The other cause for oral itching in the spring for tree pollen allergy sufferers can be foods . There are several fruits and nuts that cross-react with specific tree pollen and by eating these fruits you can worsen the oral itching. The foods that cross-react with Birch pollen include: apples, cherries, kiwi, soybean products, almonds, carrots and celery. These foods when consumed raw can trigger the intense oral itching. I have some patients that can’t even peel an apple or carrots during this time of year. Interestingly, many of these foods can be consumed if they are cooked, so you can have your apple pie for dessert. There are now special tests that can be done to differentiate these milder food allergies from the serious food allergies that can cause anaphylaxis (allergic shock). As an NY allergist, I use Component Testing which is the newest and most specific blood testing to evaluate the proteins causing the food allergy.

My patient’s rightfully complain: “This is unfair – I love these fruits and vegetables and they are supposed to be healthy for you, right?” It is unfair, but the good news is that they are not the severe type of food allergy in most cases. For now, I can use the allergy drops (sublingual allergy immunotherapy) to desensitize patients to the tree pollen allergy and make their eyes, nose and chest symptoms less severe. I believe this has a big advantage over allergy shots , in which the doses have to be decreased in the season to avoid an allergic reaction from the allergy shots themselves. I have been pleased so far this season that my patients that are on maintenance levels of allergy drops have had much less intense symptoms than the new patients I’m seeing these past few weeks.

If food allergy treatment in NY is something you’re considering, be assured that our experts are there to help.


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