Linking Allergies Food: Heating Fruits, Vegetables May Take Sting Out

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), September 14, 2015 | Go to article overview

Linking Allergies Food: Heating Fruits, Vegetables May Take Sting Out


Byline: Suzanne Allard Levingston Washington Post By Suzanne Allard Levingston Washington Post

My mouth sometimes itches when I eat raw apples, peaches or cherries. It is so annoying that I often avoid those fruits. Strangely, cherry pie never gives me a problem.

I now understand the tasty mystery of the cherry pie.

I suffer from hay fever and, like many others, I have developed what is known as oral allergy syndrome (sometimes called pollen food allergy syndrome). A usually harmless allergy, it occurs because I'm sensitive to pollen and I also react to raw fruits and vegetables that have proteins similar to those in pollen. The result: itchiness in the mouth and throat.

Luckily, cooking the produce makes the problem go

away, so cherry pie doesn't set off symptoms.

Pollen in trees, grass and weeds contains proteins that cause the itchy, drippy, sneezy symptoms of hay fever or seasonal allergic rhinitis that affect about 24 million adults and children in the United States, according to data for 2012 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If your immune system reacts to birch pollen, for example, you may be sensitive to related foods such as apples, cherries, carrots and celery.

Oral allergy symptoms develop within a few minutes of eating: The mouth or lips can itch or tingle, and there can be burning or swelling or even tightening of the throat. Usually, oral allergy syndrome causes only a short-term allergic reaction in the mouth and throat, lasting a few minutes or a few hours. Once swallowed, the proteins in the food are broken down by digestive enzymes and acids and do not travel beyond the stomach.

There are few definitive studies, but roughly 30 to 75 percent of people with hay fever may have oral allergy syndrome, according to Anna Nowak-Wegrzyn, who is an allergist-immunologist and an associate professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Many don't even know there is a name for that fleeting itch.

Miriam Keltz Pomeranz, an associate professor of dermatology at the NYU Langone Medical Center, didn't realize she had oral allergy syndrome until she had kids.

Pomeranz had seasonal allergies and related conditions as a little girl. Around age 11, she stopped eating apples because they made her mouth itch. She reacted similarly to peaches, plums, cherries and sometimes hazelnuts and almonds. She simply avoided the foods and never followed up on the minor annoyance.

But the symptoms puzzled her.

Whenever Pomeranz would mention that she couldn't eat fresh apples, everyone had an opinion. They'd tell her to buy organic, avoid pesticides or peel the fruit first.

"It also started to make me feel like maybe I was a little nuts because it became a little Pavlovian," she said, "like I could smell an apple and it would make my mouth itch sometimes."

A few decades later, an allergist looking into her child's peanut reaction asked if she had food allergies. Pomeranz said, "No, no, I don't have anything real except for this weird thing that when I eat fresh fruit it makes my mouth itch."

The allergist told her she had oral allergy syndrome, and Pomeranz was relieved: Finally she had evidence that she had a real condition.

This summer, she asked the dermatology residents she was training if they'd heard of the syndrome. They hadn't, which is not unexpected, since it is usually a topic for allergists, said Pomeranz, who recently co-authored an overview of the syndrome.

Oral allergies tests

In allergy clinics near Minneapolis, physician Hannelore A. Brucker sees cases of oral allergy syndrome every week. During allergy season she might see it multiple times a day.

She'll screen for oral allergy by asking patients if they itch when they eat apples, for example. Brucker says the allergy is best verified by a test in which a small instrument is used to pierce the raw food and then prick the individual's skin. …

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