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A detailed overview of what fruit allergies really are, how to look for symptoms, and how to treat it.

Fruits are meant to be nature’s delicious and healthy treats, but for some people, they could cause mouth itchiness, tongue swelling, rashes, and even nausea. If that happens, it should be treated a fruit allergy sign, a condition that’s life-changing, but easier to be kept under control compared to other types of allergies. 

What’s a fruit allergy?

Fruit and vegetable allergies are the body’s violent reaction right after having ingested products that fall into these categories. Allergic reactions will typically occur minutes after the contact, but there have been cases registered where the reaction was delayed with about one or two hours. The fruits that are most likely to cause allergies are those from the Rosaceae family, like plums, peaches, cherries, pears, and apples, but also kiwi fruits. 

One term that’s commonly associated with fruit allergies is OAS, which is short for “oral allergy syndrome”. This syndrome is triggered when people are allergic to the proteins found in fruit pollens. These proteins are called “profilins”, and they are the ones that the immune system labels as harmful. 

What causes it?

OAS is defined by a cross-reactivity between the proteins found in fruits suspected to trigger an allergy and inhaling the actual pollen allergen. Biologically speaking, these two allergens are not related, but the protein structure is almost identical, which causes your body to react to both. 

One of the most common forms of OAS is birch pollen allergy. This type of allergy causes a sensitivity to apples, kiwi fruit, nectarines and peaches, apricots, tomatoes, pears, and others. Having an allergic reaction to ragweed pollen could also cause allergies to melons or bananas. Grass allergies might be related to orange, watermelon and cantaloupe reactions. Understanding the correlations between these different types of allergies can help people know exactly which trigger to avoid. 

Is fruit allergy common?

No, it isn’t. In fact, only about three percent of teenagers have an allergic reaction to fruit, and it’s typically accompanied by the development of hay fever. Younger children are less likely to develop a fruit allergy.

However, out of all the children that have fruit allergies, ten percent are allergic to kiwi fruit. It is one of the easiest fruit allergies to diagnose, as all skin prick tests that are done with raw kiwis will show a positive reaction among children who are allergic to this particular type of fruit. 

What are some common symptoms?

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Swelling of body parts
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Red eyes
  • Itching
  • Hives

Symptoms are pretty similar across of types of different food allergies. Some of the symptoms of a mild allergic reaction are nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, swelling in the face region, welts, hives, and even mouth tingling. 

A person that has a fruit allergy and comes in contact with the allergen and has a severe reaction to it (anaphylaxis), will often experience difficulty in breathing and swallowing, red eyes, a runny nose, possibly sneezing, skin itching, or swelling of different body parts. Despite that, anaphylaxis caused by fruits is very uncommon compared to other allergens, such as milk, eggs, or nuts. 

Cooked vs. fresh food

People who suffer from OAS could be allergic to raw fruit, but still be capable of consuming the same cooked fruit without having an allergic reaction. That’s because a lot of the proteins in these fruits can be destroyed by heat. The easiest explanation is that when you eat raw fruit, the body tries to break down the proteins inside it, which means that reaction is typically limited to the mouth area. 

Treatment & management

Every doctor will tell you that the best way to keep a food allergy under control is to avoid the trigger as much as possible. Keep in mind that while some raw fruits cause an allergic reaction, they could still be consumed after being cooked. 

Know the differences

It’s important to understand that there is a difference between a food allergy and food intolerance. When people are intolerant to different types of fruit, they typically experience some abdominal discomfort (which can range from bloating to diarrhea), but all the symptoms pass after a short waiting period. Food intolerance in not life-threatening, and its symptoms are mild. While a fruit allergy is related to a reaction trigger by the immune system trying to protect itself, a fruit intolerance could be caused by the body’s inability to digest fructose.

See a doctor

People who suspect they have a food allergy should see a doctor as soon as possible, to get a correct diagnosis and understand all the implication of having to live with such a condition. In an attempt to diagnose a food allergy, doctors will often ask questions to get an overview of the patient’s health history, but also questions meant to uncover more about the family’s medical history. Sometimes, allergies are genetic, so people that already have an allergy sufferer in the family are more likely to develop an allergy themselves.

Testing

Skin prick and blood tests could also be part of the diagnosis process, but food testing is likely to yield more specific results. In a controlled environment, the doctor could expose the patient to the suspected allergen, to determine whether the body does indeed have an allergic reaction. People that show symptoms of an allergic reaction that’s limited to the oral cavity, could only have a mild form of allergy. A doctor must be consulted whatever the symptoms.

Treatment

As far as treatment is concerned, the best idea (aside from avoiding the fruits, of course), is to cook them. Instead of munching down on an apple, consider baking an apple cake. Replace a bowl of strawberries with strawberry jam. The important this is to have these fruits processed through heat, so that the proteins can break down and become less harmful. 

Alternatively, frozen or canned fruits can also be consumed, but be aware of eating dehydrated or dry fruits. Another useful piece of advice is to peel the skin off the fruit you want to eat. It contains the great majority of those proteins you’re looking to avoid. 

Conclusion

As far as allergies are concerned, preventing contact with the trigger is always the wisest choice. With fruits, the situation is a bit more permissive, as there are delicious alternatives. Fruits can easily be bakes into treats, sweets, or whatever other fruit-based recipe you fancy. They can be boiled to make jams, and sometimes they can be consumed if the skin is peeled. However, the latter case still exposes a person who suffers from a fruit allergy to the symptoms

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