As far as food allergens go, shellfish, nuts, dairy and gluten are among the top-billed performers. But more recently, allergists are finding that the everyday banana or apple is appearing on people’s can’t-eat lists. They’re calling it “oral allergy syndrome.”
If your mouth has ever tingled or itched after biting into apples, pears, kiwis or carrots, you may have oral allergy syndrome. NPR reports that OAS is a symptom of plant pollen allergies. Because some fruits and vegetables contain proteins that are very similar to that of pollen, the immune system could make the honest (but frustrating) mistake of identifying these proteins to be that of flowering spring trees or summer grasses.
“We call it cross-reactivity,” Dr. Carah Santos, an allergist at National Jewish Health in Denver tells NPR. “Your immune system sees something as looking very similar to something it already reacts to.”
According to this chart, those who suffer from allergy symptoms most in the spring might also be allergic to plums, cherries, almonds, celery or kiwis. Every year when spring arrives, my nose and eyes water and itch as much as someone in a Claritin commercial. Not coincidentally, my mouth and tongue itch whenever I eat kiwis.
Levels of OAS severity, as with all allergies, can vary. For Brooklyn-based childcare professional Nikki Smith, who was diagnosed with OAS six years ago, the reactions went from a slight tingle in her mouth and throat from peaches and apples to her throat swelling upon taking a bite from a plum. Smith tells Food Republic that her skin has even started to flare up upon touching these foods.
“I have to cook a lot at work, and when I cut certain fruits and vegetables they irritate my skin,” Smith says. “There have been times when I’ve touched my face by accident and it swells up within seconds. I can eat any of these foods if they are cooked or processed, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I sometimes daydream about the days that I used to eat raw peaches.”