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Pollen-Related Food Syndrome: Exploring Potential Links Between Food and Pollen Allergies

If you have food allergies to certain plant-based foods or select other types of food, more research is showing that your symptoms may actually be caused by a secondary allergy and not a true food allergy. This so called “secondary allergy” is actually a cross-reaction that is caused by a sensitivity to certain pollens or household allergens.  This means that your body is reacting to the food based on a prior allergy to a pollen and not based on an allergy to the food itself. 

I know this can be a little confusing, but don’t worry, we are here to help! First, let’s start with a list of common pollen/household allergens and common food allergies that may be associated.

Pollen/Household AllergenRelated Food Allergen
Timothy GrassMelon, Watermelon, Tomato, Banana, Apricot, Kiwi, Pineapple, Orange, and Cucumber
Birch TreeApple, Cherry, Peach, Pear, Hazelnut, Celery, Carrot
Plane TreeHazelnuts, Peach, Apple, Melon, Kiwi, Peanuts, Maize, Chickpea, Lettuce, Green beans
LatexAvocado, Banana, Kiwi, Chestnut
RagweedMelon, Watermelon, Zucchini, Cucumber, Banana
Fungus (Alternaria alternate and Cladosporium herbarum)Spinach and Mushroom
Dust Mite and CockroachShellfish

Now that we know what pollens and food can be linked, we need to explore what this means for the diagnosis and treatment of your symptoms.

Diagnosis: Although this information is definitely helpful for many reasons, the presence of these cross-reactions actually makes allergy testing much more complicated! Because of these links, it is possible that you may have false positives on your testing. This means that you could have a positive result to a certain food, which is linked to your pollen allergy, but you may never actually have any symptoms of an allergy to that food. In this case, it may be safe to continue consuming that food. Also, these links could mean that you have allergy-like symptoms when eating some foods, but do not test positive to that food on a skin test. Knowing these links can help us narrow down possibilities in these cases.

Treatment: If you have serious food allergy symptoms caused by these cross-reactions, the treatment is actually the same as a primary food allergy: elimination from the diet. However, if you only have very mild symptoms, we may be able to recommend that you can keep eating the food if it is cooked or heated or in small quantities. Also, there is potential that your food allergy could improve with treatment of your pollen allergy with medications or immunotherapy, which is very different (good news!) from a primary food allergy.

Where do I go from here?: As you can see, this subject can get very complicated and confusing very quickly. That is where we can come in! Call and make an appointment with Dr. Richard Herrscher at AIR Care if you are having food allergy symptoms related to foods listed above or if you have pollen allergies and are having potential food allergy symptoms. At this appointment, we can explain all of this further and recommend further testing or treatments that may be needed. 

References: Cross-Reactive Aeroallergens: Which Need to Cross Our Mind in Food Allergy Diagnosis? Faber, Margaretha A. et al. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, Volume 6, Issue 6, 1813 – 1823. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaip.2018.08.010

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