when plants can’t keep it in their pants • Oral Allergy Syndrome

TW: mental health

DISCLAIMER I’m not a professional health adviser, thus the posts should not be used for a diagnosis. Every person that has been interviewed for this project shares their own personal stories. If you have any worries concerning your own health, you should consult with a doctor

Puffy and itchy eyes, a running nose and sneezing – many people are affected by pollen, especially, as the weather gets warmer and dryer. However, sometimes the body confuses a protein that is found in food with a pollen protein, causing an allergic reaction. This condition is known as Oral Allergy Syndrome – this is Annie’s bitterpill.

Oral Allergy Syndrome is known to develop on top of an environmental allergy, such as hay fever.

“I remember being told nearly half of those that have experienced hay fever will have this syndrome, but however, for most, it will never fully develop or only appear with one or two foods.”

When did you get the diagnosis?

“I don’t remember exactly at what age I developed it but I remember when I was around 12, I ate a banana, and it felt as if something was stuck in my throat and I remember already experiencing that before but ignoring it as I was young and didn’t know better. I remember telling my mum and she just telling me to wash it down with water. From then on, I remember reacting to more and more foods like this, but when bringing it up to my mum, I was told I was just being picky and imagining it. My mum didn’t believe me until one time I think I ate strawberries and it got so bad I was wheezing. Then she took me to the doctors about it, and they just said I likely have this reaction and there is nothing I could do about it. I was told it was because of my hay fever, and the best thing I could do was to avoid the food.”

Mostly raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and soya cause the body to response this way. The structure of their proteins is very similar to the ones of pollen. When the raw food comes into contact with the mouth, an allergic reaction occurs – also known as s cross-reactivity.

“However, once cooked or if bought canned, the food is usually then safe to eat. In my personal experience, I react to every possible food there is to react.”

When the food is cooked, the proteins start to ‘denature’ due to the heat, meaning that their bonds break apart. This process makes it safer to eat for people with oral allergy syndrome.

“Accidental reactions happen so often that at this point, I have stopped trying new foods as I really hate the feeling I get.”

The symptoms vary depending on the type of allergy. Annie is allergic to alder pollen, birch pollen, grass pollen, mugwort pollen and ragweed pollen. Due to these allergies, she has to be careful with the following foods:

Annie provided this summary.

“It always feels as if there is something stuck at the back of your throat and that no matter how much water I drink, it doesn’t go away.”

How does it influence your everyday life?

“It influences me a lot, and it’s personally awful for me. I cannot just go to any restaurant and eat anything I want. I often can’t eat “healthy” foods like salads and starters and always seem as unhealthy or picky like a child. I’m always limited to the foods I can eat at a restaurant and when I go there, and they ask if I have any allergies I have learned to keep my mouth shut and say no because otherwise they will not serve me anything as they take the job very seriously which is good for those with a serious food allergy, but for me, it just stops me from eating anything. Majority of the staff don’t know anything about this allergy, so they are lost.  I have to take an antihistamine every day as well as always carry a stronger medicine like Benedryl with me at all times in case of a reaction.”

It is difficult to avoid foods that could trigger this kind of allergic reaction. Especially with already prepared food, it is challenging to distinguish if the ingredients could affect your body or not.

“I guess when I was growing up, I would always avoid fruit and veg and therefore seemed as if I was picky and unhealthy. I often would eat foods I knew caused an allergic reaction just because I wanted to fit in, and often that was the only food available for me.”

As the freedom of an essential process like eating is limited, constant worry and the strict diet takes a toll on mental wellbeing.

“According to my allergist later in life, she thinks I most likely was also experiencing panic attacks which would explain the tight pain chests I would feel when I ate the food.”

Although Oral Allergy Syndrome is normally not life-threatening, people with this condition have to change their diet drastically to avoid the uncomfortable consequences.

A cure for this condition has not been found yet. Like people suffering from environmental allergies, oral allergy syndrome requires consistency and monitoring.

“The only solution is to avoid the foods and that is extremely hard when I am allergic to so many. I did see a dietitian who suggested me ways I could still maintain a healthy diet but honestly it is so hard to follow that I definitely need to see someone again soon.”

Special thanks to Annie for sharing her story!