Written by Mr. Crumbs
Have you ever bitten into an apple, piece of celery, or some random piece of fruit or vegetable and shortly after your mouth, throat or lips felt itchy? Maybe even your throat became a little swollen?
Back in 1999, I went on a missions trip in North Carolina. While hanging out with a few friends during a cookout, I cut myself a large slice of watermelon. Shortly after eating it, my throw began to swell, breathing became difficult and I could barely speak. Then about 20 minutes later, my body returned to normal.
The next day, unsure of what had happened, I “enjoyed” another large slice of watermelon, and the symptoms returned. Putting two and two together, I vowed never again to eat watermelon. It was a very scary experience that I didn’t care to repeat.
Fast forward to the summer of 2014 when something all too familiar happened again.
Last year, we were blessed with a subscription to the local CSA – a birthday present to Mrs. Crumbs. While our diet has contained a variety of fruits and vegetables for several years now, we often buy them in bulk Costco to keep costs down. The produce is affordable and the selection is good, but it’s also comes from different regions in the world.
In other words, it’s not usually local.
One of the perks of a CSA subscription is the fact that the produce is local, so when our first box came, I eagerly dove into fresh apples, kiwi and assorted foods. Mrs. Crumbs whipped up some amazing smoothies and desserts we were in heaven.
Every morning around 10am, my mouth started to feel funny.
It was slightly itchy, and my tongue was covered in white. The same would happen around lunch time, and then around dinner too.
A little googling indicated that the white on my tongue was thrush, and could be the result of poor digestion. Although I didn’t have any other symptoms of poor digestion, we ramped up the probiotics anyway.
But it didn’t help.
It was strange. The itchiness and thrush came on almost after every meal.
Food allergy? Or mind games…
Since the only thing that had changed in our diet was the produce, we started an elimination diet of sorts, cutting out various pieces of fruit and vegetables from my diet to see if we could nail down the culprit of this weird itchy feeling in my mouth.
After a few weeks of eliminating, researching and experimenting, we came to the conclusion that I have Oral Allergy Syndrome.
What is Oral Allergy Syndrome?
Oral allergy syndrome, also known as pollen-food syndrome, is caused by cross-reacting allergens found in both pollen and raw fruits, vegetables, or some tree nuts. The immune system recognizes the pollen and similar proteins in the food and directs an allergic response to it.
Oral allergy syndrome isn’t necessarily an allergy to the food itself, but an allergy to the POLLEN that surrounds that food. It could be the region it was grown or being in close proximity to other contaminated foods during shipment. Your body sees the pollen, however small and slight, and reacts to it.
The Offending Foods
Various foods have cross reactions with pollen, so there’s no way to create a completely exhaustive list. However, this is a list of the top common foods (pulled from various sources) that may cause allergic reactions for those who have oral allergy syndrome:
- Swiss chard
- white potatoes
- bell pepper
- black pepper
Symptoms of Oral Allergy Syndrome
Well, if you’re like me, you’ll end up with an itchy mouth, swollen tongue or throat. Not fun.
I also had a little oral thrush on my tongue when my tongue was swollen. Although irritating, my symptoms were minor.
Other more serious symptoms can include nausea, swelling of throat, diarrhea, vomiting, hives, and even anaphylaxis (low blood pressure, rapid heart beat, cardiac arrest, anaphylactic shock etc…).
While an itchy mouth sounds like no big deal, every person is different, and oral allergy syndrome really isn’t something to take lightly!
Diagnosing Oral Allergy Syndrome
The easiest way to at least narrow down what you’re allergic to is to keep a food diary. Write down what you eat, and when you experience symptoms (if any). Then try to find a common denominator among the foods.
If you’ve narrowed down the offending foods, try to focus on eliminating just one food at at time. This will help you pin-point whether it’s just apples, or just kiwi, that you’re allergic to. Once a food is ruled out as safe, move on to the next.
Remember that someone with oral allergy syndrome may only be allergic to one food, or many foods, within one of the pollen categories above. Just because one food in a pollen category is safe, doesn’t make the others okay to eat. And if you have a reaction to one item with a type of pollen, doesn’t mean you have to eliminate everything in the same group.
In my case, I noticed a reaction when I ate apples and kiwi specifically, but was fine with carrots and celery (even though they can all be related to the same Birch/Tree pollens, AND were all locally sourced).
Something else to consider too are the various forms of the foods… like fresh apples versus applesauce versus apple juice. Unfortunately, there’s no one all-inclusive answer that applies to everyone.
A doctor or allergist can officially diagnose you with oral allergy syndrome by looking at your symptoms, your past medical history and by running “skin prick” tests.
Additionally, (and here’s the “duh” moment), if YOU notice a consistent allergic reaction to certain foods, there is a good chance you suffer from oral allergy syndrome.
Whether you get tested by a doctor, or put two and two together and draw a conclusion on your own, is up to you. However, remember that it’s better to be safe than sorry. You don’t want to assume that it’s just apples (like we did) and then start venturing out into kiwi and pears (like we did) only to find out that those cause it too… especially when there are serious side effects at risk.
Preventing Oral Allergy Syndrome
Ultimately, the safest way to go about this is to see your doctor and have them test you for various allergies. If you are unsure if a particular food will cause a reaction, simply avoid it until you know for sure. When you have a comprehensive list, avoid that food and any derivatives of the food too.
For example, if you’re allergic to celery, you need to consider avoiding dried celery or celery seeds as well. Also consider avoiding it cooked, even though some people only experience symptoms when the food is raw. You just never know, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
In my case, we’ve figured out that I can eat apples from Washington state and even Chile. However, locally sourced apples are off-limits. And I use the term “local” loosely. Apparently, 40 miles away is still local… because those are the apples that made my mouth itch!
In fact, I have to be careful with a large portion of the local Central California produce that we consume. If I experience a reaction, I simply add it to the list of foods that I should avoid. I believe this all comes down to the type of pollen in the region (which as I mentioned, could be more wide spread than just your town).
Other ways to help prevent oral allergy syndrome:
- Peel your fruits and vegetables. Remember those local apples I couldn’t eat? Well, if I peeled the skin, my allergic reaction was considerably less.
- Cook the fruits and vegetables. Many times people suffering from oral allergy syndrome are able to consume problem foods if they have been cooked. This wasn’t the case with me, but this method works for my sister, who also has oral allergy syndrome!
In The End
Your itchy mouth isn’t your mind playing tricks on you. It’s a real allergy, and you should check with your local doctor to see if you have anything to be concerned about. Oral allergy syndrome in my case, is nothing more than an annoyance, but for some people it can be life threatening!