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What is Oral Allergy Syndrome?

Have you ever had an itchy mouth or throat after eating raw fruit or vegetables? It’s not uncommon and usually occurs during the summer, when more fruit is in season and consumed more often. As long as the itch stays in the oral cavity and you don’t experience any other symptoms, this condition is known as Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) and it’s actually related to your pollen allergies. Sound crazy? Read on.

People who have OAS are allergic to tree, grass or weed pollens. Many fruits and vegetables contain proteins that are very similar to the protein found on pollens. So your immune system mistakenly (or appropriately) reacts to the fruit and vegetable proteins, thus causing the itchy symptoms in your oral cavity, a process known to immunologists as “cross reactivity”. In addition, symptoms of OAS are usually worse in the pollinating months of the pollen which cross reacts to the food in question, a common example is the pollen from birch trees and apples, a spring-time occurrence, or ragweed pollen and cantaloupes, which is more prevalent in the late summer or autumn.

Although OAS is technically considered a food allergy, it is probably one of the mildest forms of a food allergy and does not require emergency measures such as carrying an Epinephrine injector. And there are some strategies which you can undertake to reduce your symptoms such as taking an oral antihistamine before eating raw fruits and veggies; cooking or heating the food, which breaks down the protein on the food; eating canned fruits or vegetables during your pollen season or having a friend peel the skin off as the majority of the protein is found on the outer surface of the fruit or vegetable. But if the itch is unbearable, you might want to consider eating the raw fruit or vegetable when the cross reacting pollen is out of sight.