Why does hay fever cause an itchy throat? The link between pollen and oral allergy syndrome

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi
Did you know you may be sensitive to certain types of food if you have hay fever? Here’s how food and hay fever are linked and foods you may want to avoid when pollen peaks.

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If you find yourself with an itchy throat after eating during hay fever season, you may be experiencing oral allergy syndrome (OAS), also known as pollen-food allergy syndrome. OAS is linked to hay fever because some foods have a very similar protein formation as the pollen you’re allergic to.

What’s cross allergy?

If you’re allergic to something, like pollen, it means your body has developed a hypersensitivity to it. When you’re exposed to the substance you’re allergic to, you get symptoms because your immune system is overactive.

Sometimes the immune system has difficulty distinguishing between certain substances around us, which can lead to cross-allergy. Cross-allergies happen when your body reacts to different substances to the one you’re actually allergic to because the different substances contain similar allergens.

What’s oral allergy syndrome?

Oral allergy syndrome is a common type of cross-allergy. Around 90% of people with a birch pollen allergy also have OAS and may experience problems in their mouth and throat. The symptoms often appear within 15 minutes of eating a triggering food and go away on their own after a few minutes. OAS usually develops in later childhood and teenage years.

What are the symptoms of oral allergy syndrome?

Oral allergy syndrome typically affects the mouth and throat. Common symptoms include:

  • An itchy throat and tingling in your mouth
  • Redness and swelling of your lips, tongue and throat
  • Scratchy throat and difficulty swallowing

In rare cases, oral allergy syndrome can lead to anaphylaxis, which is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include difficulty breathing, low blood pressure and loss of consciousness. If these symptoms arise, call 999 and follow the steps to treat anaphylaxis.

Which foods react with pollen to cause oral allergy syndrome?

Here are some of the main pollen allergies and the foods that may cause cross-reactivation.

Tree pollen allergy

If you’re allergic to birch pollen, you may get symptoms from eating:

  • Apricots
  • Hazelnuts
  • Strawberries
  • Kiwi (or other exotic fruits)
  • Cherries
  • Almonds
  • Carrots
  • Nuts
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Potatoes
  • Pears
  • Celery
  • Apples

Grass pollen allergy

If you’re allergic to grass, you may get symptoms from eating:

  • Tomatoes
  • Melons
  • Peaches
  • Beans
  • Green peas
  • Lentils

Weed pollen allergy

If you’re allergic to ragweed, you may get symptoms from eating:

  • Bananas
  • Melons
  • Kiwis
  • Cucumbers
  • Courgettes

6 tips to manage oral allergy syndrome

Managing oral allergy syndrome can be tricky, but you can try these strategies to help reduce the chance of a reaction:

  1. Avoid exposure to pollen if you have hay fever, by staying indoors during peak pollen times and keeping your windows closed
  2. Carry an epinephrine auto-injector if your allergy causes anaphylaxis. Your doctor will be able to advise if this is necessary
  3. Keep a food diary to identify the foods that trigger your symptoms. You can use this information to develop a personalised diet plan
  4. Make sure you cook any triggering foods as many of the proteins that cause oral allergy syndrome are sensitive to heat. Cooking can break down the proteins, reducing the likelihood of a reaction
  5. If you’re at a restaurant, ask a member of staff for information on allergens
  6. Help relieve your symptoms with over-the-counter allergy medication, like an antihistamine, and see a GP if this doesn’t help your symptoms.

How can Livi help?

If you or your child has a cross-allergy and it’s not helped by over-the-counter medicines, seek medical advice. Livi GPs can help with hay fever and cross-allergies.

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If you’d like to discuss your symptoms and get help, book an appointment with a doctor.

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