I was a perfectly healthy child. I could eat anything, fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, nuts — and I would, because I love food!
Several years and one move from Germany to Canada later, I must have shocked my immune system, because spring came around and I started sneezing and my eyes were watering like crazy. One night, when I couldn't sleep at all because my nose was clogged up and I thought I was going to suffocate, I decided that it was probably time to see an allergy specialist.
He stuck a few needles in my skin and told me, after I watched my arm swell up, that I was allergic to birch and alder pollen. A few months later, I was trying to avoid dairy to calm my outbreak, and instead of pouring milk over my breakfast cereal, I used soymilk.
Ten minutes later, I found myself sitting at a walk-in clinic with a swollen lip and a swollen throat. While the doctor was trying to give me Benadryl that I obviously couldn't swallow, I convinced him that I needed a bit more than that. He finally gave me an adrenalin shot.
After this experience, I had more and more incidences where my gums or the roof of my mouth started to become itchy after eating certain foods. I finally went back to the allergy specialist and he introduced me to the words, “Oral Allergy Syndrome" (OAS).
He explained that certain foods have a similar protein to the birch and alder pollen I'm allergic to, and that my body has trouble distinguishing between the real pollen and the food, and will start a histamine reaction for either. He gave me a list of foods that trigger such cross-reactions. I had already had symptoms from most of them.
For example, birch tree pollen has protein similar to the protein in apples, peaches, plums, kiwis, pears, cherries, nightshades and certain spices. Over the next two years, my allergies became worse; I started to react to nuts and seeds as well.
When I first told my family and friends that I couldn't eat certain foods anymore, they didn't really understand. I guess it's hard to be able to relate to a problem that basically develops overnight if you don’t have one yourself. Some even thought I'd made it up in order to not have to eat certain foods (like broccoli) or they thought it wasn't a real condition and wouldn't tell me about there were almonds in the chocolate. Well, I found out...every time!
Luckily, due to trial and error and lots of allergy pills, I'm feeling a lot better these days. I've even re-introduced berries to my diet.
Here are a few things I've realized throughout my journey with OAS:
1. In times of great stress I am more sensitive to the foods on the list.
2. During my specific allergy season (March to May) I am also more sensitive to certain foods.
3. My body tolerates a higher amount of foods on my list when I eat in good company.
4. Just because my body reacts to something right now does not mean that it will react next month.
5. I'm usually fine with small amounts of fruit, for example. Introducing foods in small amounts is a great way to built more tolerance and this is how I re-introduced berries.
6. Heat alters the protein. Most of the time, people that react to raw fruit can eat the same fruit in pie or as jam. (Unfortunately, this did not work for me in regards to apples.)
7. Since the body has enough work fighting the foreign protein, the chemicals on non-organic fruit and vegetables can make matters worse. The body’s immune system is compromised as is and more chemicals mean more work. I also found that I react less to apples and tomatoes from our own garden then store bought ones.