When I was 8 years old, I was at a family get-together and fruit was being served. I was happy to see watermelon on the large platter, as it was my favourite fruit. I grabbed a piece and took a bite. Suddenly I noticed something didn’t seem right. Something didn’t feel right. My lips started to burn and itch, something I had never experienced while eating watermelon, or any food for that matter. After a few minutes, the tingling feeling didn’t subside, but rather increased. I went to the washroom and saw that my lips had a red rim around them and were starting to swell. When I returned to my mom and told her what had happened after eating the watermelon, she (like me) was confused. She proposed that it could be an allergic reaction, but to a fruit? It didn’t seem to make any sense. The following day, she called the allergist and booked an appointment to speak about what had happened.
And like my mom thought, my allergist suspected it was an allergic reaction. To confirm our suspicions, he administered a skin-prick test to check for any reactions to seasonal and environmental allergies. I was told I needed to wait a while for the test to be complete, but a few pricks on my arms were extremely itchy and red. Upon completion, he explained that I was reacting the most to birch and ragweed pollen.
My allergist began reading out a list of fruits and vegetables asking if I had experienced this sort if feeling to any of them in the past. When I told him I didn’t think so, he told me that it is very likely that one day I’ll develop sensitivities to them as well. He explained to me that it was likely that I had Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS), which is also known as Pollen-Food Syndrome. This type of food allergy is quite different, as certain foods are related to the environment and specific pollens. He helped me understand that it is like mild food intolerances that affect your mouth and oral region. What’s interesting about OAS in my case, is that I can eat the cooked version of some of the raw fruits and vegetables that I’m allergic to. This is because the heating process destroys the proteins, making the immune system no longer recognize the food (Source: http://foodallergycanada.ca/2018/04/research-april-2018/). Though people with OAS usually have a mild reaction, it can however, though very unlikely, become anaphylactic, so I carry an EpiPen® with me every day just in case of an emergency.
Since the day I first experienced an allergic reaction, over 10 years ago, like my allergist anticipated, I have developed many more allergies to fruits and vegetables that are within the birch and ragweed oral allergy families. I have learned through my experiences to strictly avoid any foods that bother me. What’s interesting to me is that after speaking to others about this syndrome, many people are shocked to learn about the possibility of being allergic to something other than the most common food allergens. Even as someone who is living with this syndrome, I truly believe that the conversation around it is lacking in the greater conversation of food allergy awareness. I hope my story begins to shed light on OAS so that others may learn and understand what this type of allergy entails. If you also have OAS, I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!
– Simone D.