This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on February 12, 2014.
If eating melons, bananas, celery or other produce sometimes leaves you with a scratchy throat, swollen lips or itchy mouth and inner ears, you might assume you have a food allergy. Not exactly, says the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
The symptoms, which are usually mild and go away on their own after a few minutes, are an extension of hay fever: allergies to ragweed, grass or tree pollens. Certain fruits, vegetables and nuts contain allergens very similar to the ones in pollen, and they cause reactions sometimes known as pollen-food syndrome or oral-allergy syndrome.
If you’re allergic to ragweed pollen, you might react to eating bananas, cucumbers, melons, sunflower seeds or zucchini. Common triggers for people allergic to grass pollen are celery, melons, oranges, peaches or tomatoes. For birch-pollen allergies, watch out for apples, almonds, carrots, celery, cherries, hazelnuts, kiwis, peaches, pears or plums. The herbs fennel and parsley and spices cumin and coriander also might be a problem.
There soon might be a new remedy for people allergic to grass or ragweed pollen. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee recently recommended the FDA approve two new pills that might help the body become immune to the pollen allergens.
The ragweed drug, Ragwitek, and the grass drug, Grastek, are tablets that dissolve under the tongue. Merck developed both in partnership with ALK-Abello, a pharmaceutical in Denmark. Like allergy shots, the tablets contain small amounts of the pollens, and taking them regularly could promote immunity over time. Most of the pills on the market today use antihistamines or other agents to treat allergy symptoms, but they don’t create immunity. The FDA must approve the drugs before they hit the market.