Oral Allergy Syndrome: Why do Pollens and Foods Cross-React?
If trees make you sneeze, they may also make you react to certain fruits and vegetables.
Allergic Living explores the science behind oral allergy syndrome, nature’s allergic double whammy.
AS FRIENDS herald spring’s arrival with the glee of a lottery winner, it’s often hard for the allergic to join the celebrating. They know that their tree foes – birch, elm, maple, alder, poplar and their nasty ilk – have begun to churn out clouds of tiny allergy-causing pollen.
Not only do a third of us battle hay fever – with runny noses, sinus and eye symptoms – but for a significant proportion of allergy sufferers, the spring bloom is just the start of their allergy woes. Dr. Antony Ham Pong, an Ottawa allergist and clinical researcher, estimates that up to 10 per cent of the general population has a condition called oral allergy syndrome, or OAS.
It’s a less severe form of food allergy, directly related to pollen reactions, that’s known to set off tingling and unpleasant itching in the mouth, throat and lips. Reactions are caused by a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even spices; all of which share allergenic proteins with specific hay fever-causing trees and plants.
“Nobody talks about the foods causing oral allergy syndrome because it’s not considered a life-threatening allergy,” says Ham Pong, the author of several articles educating patients and doctors about oral allergy syndrome. “But it’s actually more common than peanut, milk, egg, and fish allergy.”
In springtime, two of the biggest cross-reaction offenders are birch and alder trees. Depending on where you live, anywhere from 20 to 70 per cent of people who are allergic to birch and alder pollens will also have oral allergy syndrome.
Ham Pong estimates about a third of birch-allergic North Americans are affected, but the incidence of oral allergy syndrome is even higher in some European countries. Although OAS is relatively common, he doesn’t think it is increasing, at least not in North America. Rather, doctors have become better at spotting this condition.
But how can a tall, skinny tree that gives you the sniffles cause an itchy mouth if you chew on a celery stick?
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