Millions of peaches, no peaches for me
July 30, 2015 7:11 AM   Subscribe

Sudden onset of allergy symptoms, out of the blue, from a peach?

I'm in Switzerland, and probably since I moved here I haven't eaten many peaches, but previously I would have eaten a few every summer, I'm sure.

A month or so ago, a South American friend who also lives here mentioned to me that she had experienced an allergic reaction to peaches for the first time. I sympathised and we discussed whether it was something unusual about this year's peaches, or something in the soil, but then the subject was dropped. I gave her a can of peaches (just from the supermarket) to try and she had no trouble with them.

Half an hour ago, I ate a fresh peach, and within a couple of minutes my lips swelled, my throat and hard palate started itching like crazy, and now I have this scratchy uncomfortable feeling in my throat and an itchy red mark next to my mouth.

Like my friend, I have never had an allergic reaction to peaches before. I do have asthma, and this year I experienced truly terrible hay fever for the first time (I've had very mild symptoms before). I've had nectarines and apricots this season with no weird reactions. I'm not sure which country these peaches were from, since I didn't buy them myself, but at this time of year they usually come from Spain or Italy.

I can forego peaches this season if need be, and I'm not overly concerned about being tested since it's uncomfortable but clearly not life-threatening. But what gives? Why are my friend and I suddenly allergic to something we've both eaten all our lives? Is there something unusual about peaches this year?
posted by tracicle to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oral allergy syndrome. And yes, sudden onset at some point in adulthood with no previous symptoms is exactly how it happens. It happened to my mom with strawberries in her early 50s.
posted by MsMolly at 7:15 AM on July 30, 2015 [11 favorites]

Yep....+1 for OAS. happened to me with cherries. They used to be my favorite but now I can't even have one. Same symptoms as yours.
posted by brbmaroon at 7:17 AM on July 30, 2015

Allergies to various fruit is common in my family, and we all got hit in late childhood to mid-adulthood. (Also, raw is significantly different than canned; denaturing the proteins with heat often removes the problem.)

That said, there could be a spray used on the local produce that you haven't encountered before. Did you wash the fruit well?
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:17 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yup, sounds like Oral Allergy Syndrome, and strongly connected to hayfever allergies. Unlikely to be life threatening, but still annoying. Taking an anti-histamine before eating should make eating it more comfortable (or eating cooked peaches). I similarly had reactions to peaches, but not really nectarines. You *may* start experiencing a bunch of allergies to eating some raw plants (fruits, vegetables, nuts, even cooked nut and butters) - but you may not. OAS type allergies tend to expand, sometimes wax and wane over the years once you start to experience them. Annoying as hell.
posted by raztaj at 7:18 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yep, that's OAS and it can come out of nowhere. Avoid other stone fruits or cook them before eating.
posted by griphus at 7:19 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

It sounds exactly like my experience with oral allergy syndrome (adult onset, itchy lips, mouth, and throat). The canned peaches didn't bother you since they were heated, which denatures the proteins (er, I think. Not a doctor).
posted by chocotaco at 7:20 AM on July 30, 2015

Yeah, I also get this from peaches and fresh cherries. Canned, cooked, or otherwise processed fruits don't bother me.

I've never looked into it with a doctor but based on everything I've read I assume it's OAS in my case. I just avoid cherries and peaches.
posted by bondcliff at 7:21 AM on July 30, 2015

There isn't anything unusual about peaches this year, but the Oral Allergy Syndrome response can be triggered by a general increase in allergens in the air. Like, in the middle of winter when nothing is blooming and there's no pollen in the air, you might find you can have a peach without a problem. But when your immune system is already reacting all over the place to pollen in the air you're going to have a much stronger reaction to fruits you are allergic to.

The reason the canned peaches didn't give your friend any problems is that they have been cooked which neutralizes the protein she was reacting to in fresh peaches. For OAS specifically, any cooked/dried fruit is fine even if you're allergic to it fresh.
posted by kate blank at 7:21 AM on July 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

My wife had the exact same thing happen. She had actually eaten peaches earlier that week with no issue. We ended up with a trip to the hospital since the symptoms persisted all night. She was diagnosed with OAS and now carries an epipen.

About a year later she also started getting reactions to some apples.
posted by dripdripdrop at 7:24 AM on July 30, 2015

Yep, most certainly OAS. I know people have had success with removing the skin of the offending fruits carefully and completely but it's up to you if you want to risk it. iirc herrdoktor has an excellent comment here somewhere about the saga of his OAS.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:32 AM on July 30, 2015

herrdoktor on OAS
posted by griphus at 7:35 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Of course it is just the fruit, or fumigant residue, or herbicide residue, or a substance used to clean fruit, or a spray to repel insects in transit, or in the market. It might be a variety of peach whose hairs are extraordinarily prickly. Maybe it is a gmo peach bred to repel insects with prickles, and it is asumed that purchasers will peel the peach.
posted by Oyéah at 7:36 AM on July 30, 2015

herrdoktor on OAS

If I have to stop eating cherries one day, I might die of sadness.

Thanks everyone, I did google and see OAS come up but discounted it. I'm going to pop some antihistamines now and stock up for stone fruit season. Sigh.
posted by tracicle at 7:41 AM on July 30, 2015

In a past life I worked as a produce clerk for a fancy grocery store, and my anecdotal experience is that this happens to people sometimes, specifically with peaches. I'm not discounting it could be OAS (I have that with apples. Weird), but it could just be a fluke. I've not personally had this happen with peaches, but I've known quite a few people who self report this with peaches specifically.

For something that grows on a tree, up away from the dirt, peaches be dirty, yo.

All that peach fuzz holds onto dust, mold and other small dust-like-bits pretty damn well; so if that peach fuzz ends up holding onto some dust, mold or other small dust-like-bit that you're allergic to, you're in for a rough go on that batch of peaches. Whenever I get peaches, I brush them off with a dry towel, then rinse them, and give them a quick pat dry for this very reason.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:48 AM on July 30, 2015

Here's a list of which tree pollens are so closely similar to which fruits. If you'r allergic to the specific pollens, you might have a sensitivity to the associated fruits, during high pollen production.

Birch pollen: apple, almond, carrot, celery, cherry, hazelnut, kiwi, peach, pear, plum
Grass pollen: celery, melons, oranges, peaches, tomato
Ragweed pollen: banana, cucumber, melons, sunflower seeds, zucchini

That website also talks about the likelihood of OAS developing beyond "sensitivity" and into life-threatening anaphylaxis, so please take sensitivities seriously!
posted by vitabellosi at 8:09 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

and stock up for stone fruit season.

Your description is classic oral allergy symptoms and throwing more allergens into the mix right now is a bad idea. It's not a big step from a scratchy throat to one that swells and restricts breathing, and antihistamines won't cut it in the latter situation. Better to sit out the peaches, and be careful when first trying any other stone fruit too, and let things calm down for a while.

For what it's worth, I'm having one of my worst allergy summers in years over here in Germany. Not just more hayfever and itchy face than usual but a raging batch of random hives earlier this year. Probably a coincidence but I feel like the plants are really out to get me this summer.
posted by shelleycat at 8:13 AM on July 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

It might also be an allergy to a different pollen that's on the peaches but not the peaches themselves. A friend of mine thought she was allergic to basically all fruit until her allergies suggested soaking it for a few minutes (rather than just rinsing it), which has basically eliminated her symptoms.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:24 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have had seasonal allergies (all four seasons!) and oral allergy syndrome since I was a kid, and while the general types of food triggers have always fallen pretty accurately under what's listed for ragweed and birch, specific foods have come and gone of my personal list over the years. Citrus has always been a problem, but soy only started making me itch after college. The last time I had a fresh peach, the bottom half of my face turned red and started itching. That was in the spring of 2004 :'(

To deal with the aftermath, if you must have your stone fruits, an allergist once suggested taking children's Benadryl in liquid form and gargling to coat your throat and palate before swallowing the dose (diphenhydramine works topically). For me, that's usually more of a hassle than just not eating the offending fruit, since I'm basically a carnivore anyhow. Also yes to peeling, cooking, and otherwise processing and denaturing those pesky proteins.

As for the sudden onset of allergies, how long have you and your South American friend been in Switzerland? This is totally anecdata but my parents also have seasonal allergies and they swear up and down that they never had problems before they emigrated from China to the US in their twenties. Of course there are better and worse allergy seasons and sometimes they just spontaneously turn up, but I've heard similar claims from other immigrants as well.
posted by yeahlikethat at 8:30 AM on July 30, 2015

When I was about 23 it started with cherries. Then it expanded into peaches. Then all the stonefruit. Then pears. Then large quantities of raw carrot (though shaved in a salad is still ok). Also jackfruit. That's where I'm at right now - I'm 28. I'm vegetarian, so I'm really aware of which foods set off OAS since I emphasize fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts in my diet relative to the average American. There are lists where you can see what you're likely to be allergic to next, given already existing reactions. My reactions are all related to birch allergies, which I've always been very reactive to in pinprick tests and allergy shots.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:42 AM on July 30, 2015

Try the peach without the skin. It's the skins on fruit that my wife is allergic to.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:22 AM on July 30, 2015

I have developed bad oral allergy syndrome since my late teens and would definitely advise you to just stay away from anything that gives you a reaction. It is rare for OAS to get to anaphylaxis but its better to be safe than sorry! It might help you pin down what you are allergic to, i have developed a reaction to nearly every item on the list associated with birch pollen over the last 10 years and realised it was birch pollen causing my hayfever as a result, I can now take my meds before the season begins and nip it in the bud! I am fine with most foods I'm allergic to once they are heated/cooked, the exception is hazlenuts as the allergenic protein is a lot harder to break down.

It sucks to have to cut out lovely fruit, you have my sympathy!
posted by Peetree at 10:37 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I asked just this question but about honeydew melons. I feel your pain.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:05 AM on July 30, 2015

I'm also allergic to stone fruit, and I have tried the peeling-the-apple-first thing, because I hadn't had an apple for about 20 years. It was delicious, but I was sadly still allergic, so be aware the peeling thing doesn't always work. sigh.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:54 PM on July 30, 2015

My wife had something similar happen, but with zithromycin. Taken it for years, no problems. Then one day, mid-sequence, BAM, allergic reaction. Called for an ambulance, and when the paramedics got there, between looks, in the space of a minute, she developed hives. Epipen in the ambulance, heavy doses of benadryl, six hours in the hospital.

posted by mephron at 3:16 PM on July 30, 2015

This is totally anecdata but my parents also have seasonal allergies and they swear up and down that they never had problems before they emigrated from China to the US in their twenties.

I have the same problem - no allergies growing up in India, but my second spring in the US as a grad student, boom. My theory is that it's my immune system getting bored after not being under constant assault for a while. (Yeah, it's a half-baked theory.)

And I'm coming round to understanding that my sudden itchy mouth / throat / eyes after eating an apple or cherries or sometimes avocados is not likely due to pesticide residue (but this was labeled organic!) after all. It's just that it's very inconsistent - seems to vary day to day and specific sample of fruit to fruit.

But yeah, allergies. Bummer. I'm never giving up avocados.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:18 AM on July 31, 2015

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