The Ragweed and Melon Allergy Connection

How Oral Allergy Syndrome Explains the Relationship

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Verywell / Zorica Lakonic

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Most people are familiar with hay fever and food allergies, but many do not realize there can be a connection. Pollen-food allergy syndrome, also known as oral allergy syndrome, can cause people who suffer from hay fever to experience symptoms such as an itchy mouth or scratchy throat when eating certain fruits, vegetables, or tree nuts.

Pollen-food allergy syndrome is caused by allergens found in both pollen and certain foods that can cross-react, triggering the immune system to mount an allergic response. People with pollen-food allergy syndrome usually only experience a reaction when eating raw fruits or vegetables, because cooking alters the proteins involved.

Who's at Risk

People with a history of allergic reactions to birch, ragweed, or grass pollens can develop pollen-food allergy syndrome. The condition is less common in young children. However, older children, teens, and young adults may suddenly develop oral allergies even after they have been comfortably eating the same foods for years.

Oral Allergy Correlations

Certain foods correlate with particular environmental allergens. For example, if you find you are allergic to various types of melons, you may also experience allergic rhinitis caused by ragweed pollen. If you are affected by pollen-food allergy syndrome when you eat fresh fruit like melon, you may experience itching, burning, or stinging sensations of the mouth, throat, and tongue as your body reacts to the proteins in the fruit. The symptoms generally last only a few seconds or minutes, since the proteins that cause the symptoms are broken down quickly by saliva.

Other common correlations include the following.

  • Birch pollen: apple, almond, carrot, celery, cherry, hazelnut, kiwi, peach, pear, plum
  • Grass pollen: celery, melons, oranges, peaches, tomato
  • Ragweed pollen: banana, cucumber, melons, sunflower seeds, zucchini

Because the symptoms usually fade quickly, treatment usually is not necessary or helpful.

While the above associations are possible, they do not exist in every individual. For example, a person with birch pollen allergy may have pollen-food allergy syndrome to apple but not have symptoms with any of the other foods mentioned. Similarly, a person may have ragweed pollen allergy and only notice oral symptoms with melons.

Diagnosis

A careful history can usually provide enough clues to your doctor that pollen-food allergy syndrome may be present. Sometimes, skin prick tests and oral food challenges can aid in diagnosis. Diagnosis of pollen-food allergy syndrome is reached after taking a patient’s clinical history and, in some cases, conducting skin prick tests and oral food challenges with raw fruit or vegetables.

Anaphylaxis

While anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction that compromises breathing, is not very common, it can occur with pollen-food allergy syndrome. Therefore, it is important to obtain a proper diagnosis and find out whether carrying an epinephrine auto-injector is warranted.

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  1. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Oral Allergy Syndrome. Updated March 21, 2019.