Fruit and Pollen Allergies: The Double-Whammy
Thinking back to my childhood bible studies, the sin of Adam was eating the forbidden fruit from the apple tree. Today, it seems the sin of eating the apple lies with my patients who have pollen allergies as they may also experience symptoms of an allergy to the fruit.
What Do I Mean By This?
This doesn’t mean anything religious. I’m referring to the numerous patients I see in my medical practice that are upset because they are allergic to fruit, especially those that peak in the summer.
These patients always ask: Is it pesticides on the fruit? Or is it better if I eat organic? I always explain that pesticides are not the problem. In my experience, many patients with specific pollen allergies tend to have allergic symptoms when eating certain fruits.
Apples and other stone (or pitted) fruits come from trees. The pollens in these trees have many cross-reacting proteins with fruits that are based on where they come from in nature.
The most common fruit allergies I see are related to the birch tree pollen. Birch pollen’s proteins cross-react with apples, cherries, apricots, and kiwis. It is typical for a person with birch tree pollen allergy to experience itching in the mouth when eating some or all of these fruits.
The Good News
Fruit allergies have been officially labeled by Oral Food Allergy Syndrome. They typically give mild symptoms, not the type that causes allergic shock (anaphylaxis). It is wise to be aware that birch pollen also cross-reacts with hazelnuts, almonds, and soy, so be alert if you notice symptoms eating or drinking these foods.
If you are a peach lover (like myself) and you are allergic to grass pollen, which typically starts to rise in May and peaks around Memorial Day, you need to be aware! Peaches, tomatoes, and wheat also cross-react with grass pollen and can make the allergic symptoms of a fruit allergy worse.
Later in summer, when the ragweed pollen starts to peak these allergic patients have to watch out for allergic reactions to banana, watermelon, and cantaloupe because of the ragweed’s proteins cross-react with these fruits and cause oral itching in the mouth and throat.
Treatment Options for Fruit Allergies?
Unfortunately, there is currently no treatment for the food allergy component of this condition. All you can do is avoid these fruits.
A safe trick I tell my patients who desperately miss sweet cherries or peaches is that you can cook these fruits in a pie and you will usually have no reaction. You might think this is unusual, but the proteins in the skin’s of these fruits break down during the cooking process and become non-allergic. However, this is not true with more severe allergies, such as peanut or shellfish.
Spring is here and the pollen season is upon us. If you are craving a piece of fruit be sure you know which ones are safe for you.
Dr. Dean Mitchell M.D.
Mitchell Medical Group, NYC & Long Island