Could cross-reactivity explain your food sensitivity symptoms?

I'm allergic to milk.  Simple, right?

If only food allergies and food sensitivities were that straight-forward!  Many of us deal with cross-reactivities associated with allergies or sensitivities which do nothing but make the puzzle that much harder to solve.  

As an example, yes, I am allergic to cow's milk but I also react to goat's milk and I react if I eat too much beef.  Those are examples of cross-reactions - I am not specifically allergic to goat's milk but if I eat enough of it, I will experience some uncomfortable symptoms. In that sense, I am sensitive to goat's milk. 

Cross-reactivity allergy syndromes

More commonly, individuals with different pollen allergies - grasses and trees and ragweed (of which there are 17 different species in the US!) - frequently struggle with cross-reactivities.  If you want to start exploring, look for Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) or Pollen-Food Allergy Syndrome (PFAS).  

What it all boils down to is proteins in some foods are very similar to the proteins in grass, tree (specifically birch) or ragweed pollen which cause allergic reactions.  If you are sensitized to the pollen, you may also react to the food with similar proteins.  Your body doesn't see the difference in the two proteins and it goes to work to keep you safe.  Sounds simple - but figuring out all of the possibilities can be a little overwhelming.  Especially when you're just trying to enjoy lunch with a friend!

Want some good news?  Just because you are allergic to grasses, trees or ragweed does not mean that you will experience these cross-reactions.  Want another bit of good news?  If you do experience these cross-reactions, try cooking the potential trigger food to decrease chances of reactions.

Symptoms of PFAS and OAS

What do PFAS reactions look like?  Great question!  (And I can tell you from personal experience.)  They are usually limited to the lips, mouth and throat and most commonly look/feel like scratchy or itchy throat, itchy mouth, or maybe some swelling of the same area - mouth, lips, throat.  Yes, these reactions can progress to anaphylaxis, but that is typically really rare.  

Quick share - I am allergic to ragweed and several different kinds of grasses.  My family used to make pancakes on Saturday mornings for a treat.  We didn't know anything about gluten-free back then.  I would always complain to my mom about the back of my throat getting really scratchy and sore when I ate pancakes.  It became a joke  - Weird Melissa who got a sore throat from pancakes.  It would pass within a few hours and I would look forward to pancakes the next weekend.  It eventually did keep me from eating pancakes but I loved waffles…and for some reason, it didn't happen with the waffles!

There are a few other types of cross-reactivity allergies out there, e.g. Lipid Transfer Protein (think allergies to lettuce!) and latex allergy, but we'll talk about those another time.  

What foods cross-react with pollen?

Specifically for PFAS, here are some of the items that cross-react.  I have pulled these from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and added a few of my own from my research.  (These are not comprehensive lists.)

Grass pollen: celery, melons, oranges, peaches, tomato, wheat

Birch pollen: apple, almond, carrot, celery, cherry, hazelnut, kiwi, peach, pear, plum, potato, spinach, wheat and buckwheat

Ragweed pollen: banana, cucumber, melons, sunflower seeds and zucchini

Because so many of the wonderful folks I work with like to use herbs and teas to help with symptoms of food sensitivities and allergies, know ragweed also cross-reacts with Chamomile and Echinacea.  

As always, listen to your body first and foremost!  If someone says your symptoms don't make sense (like pancakes making your throat sore) don't minimize what your body is telling you.  Keep looking for connections and answers.  Science and medicine don't know everything!  But we're all always learning.  

Sixty-second Self-care Tip…

Now that we've talked through how some of our environmental allergies can affect the foods to which we react, it makes some sense to really manage those environmental allergies as much as possible!

Quick and practical tips for pollen allergies - when pollen levels are high (The Weather Channel app will gladly tell you all about grass, ragweed and tree pollen counts, as well as mold counts!) consider: 

  • Wearing a hat or other head covering when you're outside to minimize pollen in your hair.  
  • When you come inside, wipe your face with a wet microfiber cloth to help wash away the pollen.  
  • You might even consider using a saline nose spray to help wash some of the pollen out of your nose and sinuses!
  • And definitely take a shower before bed so you're not sleeping with all of that wonderful pollen!

No clue if environmental allergies are part of your food sensitivity puzzle?  I always recommend allergy testing as a first (or second) step in unpuzzling your situation.  Learn a bit more about allergy and sensitivity testing by requesting my FREE resource, Food Sensitivity Testing: Which Test is Right for You?  It's quick and easy and will tell you a bit about many of the different kinds of tests out there - and how to access them! 


Tags

60-second self-care, allergy testing, oral allergy syndrome, pollen food allergy syndrome, ragweed, sore throat


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