Oral Allergy Syndrome vs. Food Allergies: Strawberries

By Heather Legg

There have been quite a few comments on this site regarding a past article on strawberry allergies. You don’t hear of fruit allergies near as much as allergies to the other “major” allergens, but obviously, strawberry and other fruit allergens are definitely a problem. Symptoms can range from itchy mouth or lips, to hives and rashes, to anaphylactic shock.

In fact, even though strawberries aren’t listed as one of the eight major allergens, there are some definite guidelines concerning strawberries. The recommendation for introducing strawberries to babies is at one year, longer if there is a history of allergies in the family. According to Wholesomebabyfood.com, some stage 2 baby foods do contain strawberries, but they are cooked which makes them more tolerable. Be careful with this, though, if there are allergies in your family. If you are making your own baby food, be careful as well, as commercial processing usually can get foods to a higher temperature. The higher temperature is necessary to break down the proteins which cause the allergic symptoms.

This however, pertains more to Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS). This is the type of allergy that is related to pollen, with strawberries, the link is to birch pollen. In other words, if you are allergic to birch pollen, you may have a cross reaction to some fruits, like strawberries. Though OAS can cause itching and sometimes swelling of the mouth, it doesn’t lead to the more severe symptoms of allergies. If you or your child is experiencing difficulty breathing, hives, or itching elsewhere besides the mouth area, the allergy is probably a true food allergy.  If this is the case, strawberries need to be completely avoided, in any form. Just as with the major allergenic foods, there is the chance of an anaphylactic reaction. OAS is different from the more severe food induced anaphylaxis of a true food allergy.

So what does this mean? If you have OAS and realize that strawberries make your mouth or lips itch, try cooking your strawberries. Of course, it’s not the same, but you can just be accustomed to them in different ways. Jams and jellies are cooked, and you can make yummy sauces with cooked berries. Some people say the sooner they are eaten after being picked, the smaller your chance of experiencing OAS is. Try a U-Pick field and see if it helps.

If you have an allergy, though, to strawberries, you need to stay away altogether and practice real avoidance. No jams or jellies, or any foods with strawberries in them. Cooking won’t destroy the proteins that cause the true allergies. It won’t matter when they are picked, you need to avoid.

As I have said before, allergies are confusing! Between OAS and true food allergies, between the different symptoms each person can get and between the “growing out of allergies” factor, they are just confusing! The best thing to do is practice common sense, if you have an uncomfortable reaction – stay away from it. You can try allergy testing, but that is another whole story in itself!

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