Everything You Need to Know About a Cherry Allergy

Cherries make an excellent snack because they’re low in calories and chock full of vitamins, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds. However, not everyone can enjoy cherries. A cherry allergy is rare, but it can happen, especially in people who have pollen allergies. 

Like other food allergies, a cherry allergy is a serious condition. It occurs when a person’s immune system overreacts to a harmless food protein known as an allergen.

This article will discuss the symptoms, complications, and treatment of a cherry allergy.

Woman holding cherries

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Primary vs. Secondary Allergy

Cherry allergies can be classified as primary or secondary food allergies. A primary cherry allergy often first appears in infancy and is diagnosed when a person is allergic to the fruit itself. With a primary allergy, the reaction is triggered when the allergen makes contact with the intestinal mucosa.

A secondary allergy often appears in older children and adults who have an existing primary allergy to pollen. A reaction occurs because the protein found in certain raw fruits and vegetables is very similar to those found in pollen.

The medical term for this condition is oral allergy syndrome (OAS), which is also called cross-reactivity.

Oral Allergy Syndrome

OAS, or oral allergy syndrome, is considered to be a mild form of a food allergy. It is caused by cross-reactivity between plant proteins from pollen and raw vegetables, fruits, and some tree nuts.

While some people only report allergies to certain foods, others report symptoms after eating many other fruits and vegetables. A person with OAS reacts to different foods based on the type of seasonal allergies they are allergic to.

For example, if a person has a primary allergy to birch tree pollen, they often experience a reaction to pitted fruits, such as cherries. Up to 75% of people who are allergic to birch tree pollen will experience allergic reactions to foods that contain similar proteins.

Common Allergens of OAS

Other foods that cross-react with a birch tree pollen allergy include:

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Melons
  • Peanuts
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts


Cherry Allergy Symptoms

The most common symptoms of a cherry allergy include:

  • Itching of the face, mouth, face, lips, or tongue
  • Face and mouth swelling
  • Itchy ears
  • Hives around the mouth

Other less common, severe symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling underneath the skin
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Anaphylaxis

Secondary food allergy symptoms usually occur immediately after eating the fruit and subside soon after being swallowed or removed from the mouth.

What Is Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that requires immediate treatment. Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include hives, swollen throat, chest tightness, stomach cramps, and difficulty swallowing.

Diagnosis

A food allergy diagnosis usually begins with a visit to an allergist, a specialist trained to diagnose and test for food allergies.

An allergist will begin with an initial consultation to help determine if a skin prick or blood test is needed. A diagnosis of oral allergy syndrome is mainly based on clinical history but will usually be verified by a skin prick testing.

You may also be asked to complete an oral food challenge to confirm the food that is causing the reaction.

Treatment

Avoiding raw cherries is the best way to treat a cherry allergy. Most people can tolerate cooked cherries since the protein is altered by heat. For a primary cherry allergy, however, cherries should be eliminated altogether.

Some people with OAS may only need to avoid the food during the pollen season, which can worsen symptoms.

Antihistamines like Zyrtec (cetirizine), Benedryl (diphenhydramine), and Allegra (fexofenadine) may help relieve symptoms like itching or mouth tingling. Severe reactions can be treated with epinephrine.

Immunotherapy (allergy shots) against pollen may also be beneficial in people with severe OAS.

What to Avoid

If you have a secondary cherry allergy or OAS, you may also experience a reaction to foods in the same botanical family.

For a true cherry allergy, you'll want to avoid all foods that may contain cherries, such as:

  • Jams
  • Jellies
  • Fruit juice
  • Ice cream
  • Baked goods

Food Alternatives

Most people with a secondary cherry allergy can tolerate cooked cherries since heating breaks down the proteins responsible for OAS. Because the protein is often concentrated in the skin, you may also be able to tolerate cherries with the skin removed.

Canned cherries are also more likely to be tolerated and can make a good substitute for fresh cherries.

Summary

Although cherry allergies are uncommon, they can occur. Most of the time, a person with a cherry allergy may have OAS and may also be allergic to other fruits and vegetables that share similar allergens. A person with a true cherry allergy should avoid cherries altogether, whereas a person with OAS should avoid cherries in raw form. If you have been diagnosed with a cherry allergy, it's important to work closely with your allergist to discuss other foods that you may need to avoid.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to speak with an allergist if you experience the same rash or itchy feeling after eating cherries or other foods. Keeping a food diary and writing down symptoms can help you pinpoint which foods are triggering your symptoms. It can also help your allergist diagnose and treat your food allergy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is a primary cherry allergy?

    A primary cherry allergy, when you're allergic to the fruit itself, is far less common than other food allergies.

  • Can a cherry allergy go away?

    Cherry allergies can come and go. Symptoms may be worse during allergy season when pollen peaks. However, a cherry allergy is unlikely to go away once it's developed.

  • What fruit allergy is the most common?

    The most common fruit allergies include peach, apple, and kiwi.

  • Can you suddenly be allergic to cherries?

    In the case of oral allergy syndrome, cherry allergies can develop as a secondary allergy during late childhood and adulthood.

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10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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