Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Why fruit is NOT a dessert - Pollen Food Syndrome - formerly known as Oral Allergy Syndrome

Fruit is not a dessert!! a hashtag campaign beloved of the Coeliac on Twitter - they're campaigning for better gluten free dessert choices when out at a restaurant or dinner. 

They're quite right, fruit is definitely not a dessert! Not for me anyway!

For me, there's nothing worse than being handed a plate of fresh fruit or fruit salad as a dessert. And I'm really NOT joking!

You may see a lovely healthy dessert... all I can see is an OAS reaction waiting to happen!

I'm not being obtuse or faddy - I just have trouble with quite a lot of raw fruit and veg. You may think that's rather strange and I would too, if I hadn't experienced it for myself. For years I was rather puzzled, about it, but I certainly didn't trouble the doctors - I worried they would write me off as being daft, so I just avoided the things that gave me grief and got on with it! Then, one day, via the power of the Internet, I discovered an article that described exactly what I'd been experiencing, and I have to say, it was a bit of light bulb moment! 

Suddenly, I discovered I wasn't as odd as even I thought I was! It was a medical condition, others had experienced the same, and it was called Oral Allergy Syndrome, although now it seems to be called Pollen Food Syndrome

Having discovered that it is indeed a real 'thing', I have since tried discussed it with a GP on more than one occasion, but it still seems a bit 'out there' - I've had a few strange looks from doctors, so I've kind of given up mentioning it to them!

It all started when I was about 13, or 14. I've since found out that it quite typically begins during teenage years, and it usually follows that the affected individual is a hay fever sufferer - yep! That's me alright! Apparently, sufferers also often are allergic to Silver Birch Pollen, which I am not. Grass, daisies, lilies - they're more my problem, although there are a few trees that affect me as well.

The Silver Birch is a real problem for many.

I first noticed I had a problem when I started getting itchy and sore lips, tongue (the underside usually), mouth and even throat when I ate certain fruits and vegetables. I soon came to realise that I was affected by more and more different kinds of fruit. It also sometimes affected me when I ate nuts, including some of my favourites, like hazelnut.

It's eased off a bit, I think - either that or I've got better at managing it - as some things don't seem to affect me so badly anymore. That said, I've not dared touch kiwi fruit for many a year... or green pepper - after one reaction that left me struggling to breathe - in those days I was a student, living in a house without a phone and home alone! I can't tell you how scary that was! 

Fortunately for me, drinking water, trying to stay calm and sitting still for a bit gradually saw my symptoms ease off. If that happened these days, I'd call an ambulance straight away! In rare cases, it can cause Anaphylactic shock. 

So do I avoid fruit and veg. altogether? No way!! Instead, over time, I've developed some coping strategies. There are some things that I noticed definitely seem to help me:

  • certain varieties of a fruit seem to affect me less than others
  • over/under ripeness (particularly bananas) also plays a part
  • properly cooked fruit/vegetable cause no problems whatsoever

I've heard chopping, canning and freezing can also help, but in my experience chopping up fruit or veg. doesn't seem to help me much at all - I can still react to raw carrot sticks and even (I noticed this recently) potato, if it's not been cooked properly! And as for canning, well tinned or foil wrapped food brings my face out in an itchy rash, so I don't go there!

You can apparently take anti-histamine to help ease the symptoms, when they occur, but I've got so used to managing it that I don't bother.

Something else - there are apparently different 'families' of fruit/veg. related to various types of pollen, but I seem to blur the boundaries on these (see here, for an informative table)! All I know is that I react more strongly to some than others. So I avoid what seems to affect me the worst, and try those that tend to cause a milder reaction, and then if a reaction develops, and isn't too bad, I drink a lot of water (or, strangely enough, tea) afterwards, to minimise the effects and sooth the itching! 

It's worth knowing that exercise, hormones (i.e. menstrual cycle) and alcohol can raise histamine levels and cause a stronger reaction, so it could be worth watching out for these too! 

If this is something that you or some you happen to know also suffers with, despite my own lack of success in this area, I would mention it to your family doctor. You may also find the Allergy UK - Fact Sheet an interesting read, or this one, by the Anaphylaxis Campaign

Please note the additional advice of the Anaphylaxis Campaign - that some allergic reactions to fruit/vegetable are not due to PFS (Pollen Food Syndrome) /OAS (Oral Allergy Syndrome) but could indicate a more serious form of allergy. If you experience rashes or wheezing, it would be worth your while asking your GP for a referral to have it investigated more fully.

As Pollen Food Syndrome/Oral Allergy Syndrome is something that is still not that well known, among ordinary folks, I'm blogging about it for awareness sake. Something I've found is that each time I mention it, someone else comes to the realisation that they too are not that weird after all! So please feel free to share!

Further Reading:

Article by Allergic Living online magazine: Oral-Allergy Syndrome Why do Pollens and Foods Cross-React?

Article from Dermatitis: Oral Allergy Syndrome (Pollen Food Syndrome)

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1 comment:

  1. I think I have this, certain foods- not all the time, give me a terrible burning throat and swelling like I am having an allergic reaction, also sometimes I get rashes from it. Raw pineapple or pineapple juice, red pepper and raw beetroot are the most common offenders