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Author: Dr Emily Ryder, Dermatology Registrar, Auckland, New Zealand. Editor in Chief: Adjunct A/Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand. Copy edited by Maria McGivern/Gus Mitchell. January 2018.
Oral allergy syndrome refers to oropharyngeal symptoms triggered by eating specific raw foods.
As it occurs in people with pollen allergy, oral allergy syndrome is also known as pollen-food syndrome.
Oral allergy syndrome affects older children and adults who have pollen allergies, which are common causes of hay fever and atopic asthma. It is not common for younger children or babies to develop oral allergy syndrome.
Oral allergy syndrome is caused by cross-reactivity of an immunoglobulin E (IgE)-mediated ('immediate') immune reaction to specific proteins found in inhaled allergens (pollens) with a similar protein found in some raw fruit and vegetables. Cooking these fruits and vegetables alters the proteins so that most people with oral allergy syndrome are symptom-free with cooked fruits and vegetables.
It is unclear why some people with pollen allergies develop oral allergy syndrome while many do not.
Oral allergy syndrome can affect the mouth, tongue, ears, and/or throat.
Oral allergy syndrome usually settles quickly without complications. If symptoms spread beyond the mouth area after eating raw fruit or vegetables, medical advice should be sought. In the rare cases where the person's breathing is affected, although it is not likely to be serious, immediate medical attention is necessary.
A small proportion of patients with oral allergy syndrome develop systemic symptoms or anaphylaxis.
Oral allergy syndrome may be diagnosed by a specialist in oral medicine, allergy or dermatology based on the clinical history.
Performing blood tests (for specific IgE immune reactions) and skin prick testing to fresh foods can be helpful in some cases but these tests alone do not diagnose oral allergy syndrome and referral to a specialist clinic is required. Commercial food extracts are usually not suitable for skin-prick testing for oral allergy syndrome because the protein allergens are typically unstable and may be altered during the extraction process.
Differential diagnoses to be considered include:
People with oral allergy syndrome are advised to avoid the raw foods that trigger their symptoms. Only the foods associated with symptoms need to be avoided. Most people with oral allergy syndrome are able to eat cooked forms of the same foods without triggering symptoms.
In case of accidental ingestion of the trigger foods, symptoms of oral allergy syndrome usually quickly subside once the food is swallowed or removed from the mouth and usually no treatment is needed. Rinsing the mouth with water may help to reduce symptoms. If symptoms persist, an antihistamine tablet may be helpful.
Immunotherapy to pollens may reduce symptoms for a small proportion of patients, although this treatment is usually not recommended.
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