What is Pollen Food Allergy Syndrome and how to manage it

Pollen food allergy syndrome, also called oral allergy syndrome, is a hypersensitivity reaction that occurs in some people when they eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, or spices (1). It most commonly causes itching of the tongue, lips, and oral cavity after consuming plant foods (1). We often hear about allergies to other foods, such as gluten or dairy products, but pollen food allergy syndrome manifests itself differently and can develop at any time.

In this article:

  • What is it?
  • Symptoms
  • Foods that can cause it
  • Advices
  • How to eat, taking into account what has been learned

What is it?

Pollen food allergy syndrome occurs when the body reacts to the proteins contained in certain plant foods. This often happens in people who also have a pollen allergy (1).

Allergic reactions are caused by proteins in certain foods and often the symptoms are limited to the mouth area, but in some rarer cases they can cause more systemic side effects (2). These plant proteins are similar to those that cause runny noses and therefore cause the same symptoms in the body.

Pollen food allergy syndrome is less common in young children and can develop even after years of eating certain foods without any problems. It is associated with the autumn cold and is more likely to develop in older children, teenagers and adults who have pollen allergies (3).

Symptoms

Symptoms of pollen food allergy syndrome include itching and irritation of the lips, tongue, throat and oral cavity. Some people may experience swelling, and other more severe cases develop a rash or difficulty breathing (wheezing).

Foods That Trigger Pollen Food Allergy Syndrome

Pollen foods that can trigger relevant reactions include pollens from birch, grasses, ragweed (a plant), wild wormwood, timothy grass, and hedgehog pollen (4). Here we have also described a few of the most common foods that are associated with pollen food allergy syndrome and are based on each type of pollen.

  • Foods containing rush pollen: apples, almonds, apricots, carrots, celery, cherries, hazelnuts, kiwis, peaches, pears and plums (3);
  • Foods containing grass pollen: celery, melon, orange, peach, tomato (3);
  • Foods containing ragweed (plant) pollen: bananas, pumpkin, cucumbers, cantaloupe, sunflower seeds, zucchini;
  • Foods containing wild wormwood pollen: chard, cauliflower, chard, fennel, garlic, onion (4);
  • Foods containing timothy grass and hedgehog pollen: orange, peach, tomato, watermelon, potatoes (4);

Advices

Due to the fact that food allergies are the body’s reaction to proteins in food, but heat treatment of foods can break down the proteins and make them safer to eat. Canned fruits and vegetables are often safer to eat because they have undergone heat treatment during the canning process. Proteins can also be broken down by using a microwave oven to reduce the risk of allergic reactions. Foods that are not suitable for heating, such as bananas or cantaloupe, can be avoided to prevent symptoms.

Because nuts have a higher protein content than most fruits and vegetables, they may not be suitable for consumption even after they have been roasted or cooked. Monitor your symptoms and talk to your doctor about whether you should use an epinephrine pen to prevent severe allergic reactions. Most people can manage their symptoms with antihistamines alone.

How to eat, taking into account what has been learned

If you only have mild symptoms of pollen food allergy syndrome, then you can find different ways to enjoy most plant foods. Roasted vegetables, or at least those that contain pollen, can be eaten as well as in soups or broths, because heat processing will break down the proteins. Steaming, frying and microwaving will also aid this process.

If certain fruits cause you allergy symptoms, then try taking their canned form instead of eating them fresh. Frozen fruits may have undegraded proteins, so it’s best to avoid them. Animal skins and seeds often contain proteins that can cause interactions and are good to substitute, for example applesauce instead of fresh apples.

Pollen allergies are seasonal, and you’re likely to notice more pronounced symptoms during certain months of the year (4). If your symptoms only worsen at certain times of the year, then pay special attention and avoid eating the raw forms of these foods.

Conclusion

Although pollen food allergy syndrome sounds alarming, most people who have it experience only mild symptoms and anaphylactic reactions are rare (4). Proper heat treatment of food and avoiding the skin of meat or nuts allows you to enjoy the taste of fruits and vegetables. Track and notice which foods affect you the most. Always consult your GP if your symptoms worsen.

 

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