Cross allergy to grasses, birch & Co.

Cross allergy to grasses, birch & Co.

Cross allergies are becoming more and more common in connection with hay fever. Anyone who suffers from a pollen allergy not only has to forgo spring walks – biting into an apple or eating a peanut can often have serious consequences. In people with an allergy, the immune system reacts overly sensitively to substances foreign to the body, the so-called allergens. Since some allergens, such as those from birch pollen or grasses, are similar to those of some foods, allergy sufferers can develop so-called cross-allergies. Often, certain types of fruit, vegetables, or nuts cause cross-allergy.

Hay fever: triggers of cross allergies

Hay fever is also often called a pollen allergy because it is triggered by pollen from grass, trees or herbs. Depending on which substances are causing the allergy, the intensity of the symptoms can vary seasonally:

  • The pollen load is usually highest in the spring and summer months.
  • The first early bloomers, including alder and hazel, come to life as early as February or March.
  • In the year, the birch tree pollen mainly causes problems for allergy sufferers.
  • The flowering period of the grasses, on the other hand, typically extends from May to August. Hence, an allergy to rye or oats sometimes only becomes noticeable in summer.

Mugwort is probably one of the most allergenic substances. Even small amounts of this weed can cause severe symptoms.

Since the allergy can spread to the bronchi and trigger allergic asthma there, all cases of hay fever should be treated professionally by an allergist. This should also check whether a cross-allergy accompanies hay fever.


What is a cross allergy?

The allergens of pollen and some foods are partly similar in their chemical structure. Since the immune system cannot always distinguish between the individual substances, people allergic to pollen often react sensitively to certain foods. This is called “cross-allergy” or “pollen-associated food allergy.” Typical foods with which cross allergies occur are, for example, melons, peaches or hazelnuts.

However, cross-allergies occur not only in connection with hay fever – other allergies can also be considered triggers.

Typical forms of cross allergy

Which foods can cause symptoms depends on the type of allergy:

  • There is often a cross-allergy between tree pollen and various types of fruit, vegetables, nuts and herbs.
  • Anyone allergic to birch pollen often has symptoms when eating stone and pome fruit (for example, apples, pears, cherries, plums or peaches), strawberries, tomatoes, hazelnuts or soybeans.
  • There is also a relationship between mugwort pollen and certain spices, such as caraway, pepper or aniseed, but also with vegetables such as peppers, celery, carrots or cucumber.
  • Grass pollen allergies often cause hypersensitivity to other grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and spices (e.g., rye, oats, melon, kiwi, peas, peanuts, or peppermint).
  • A cross-reaction to shellfish or crustaceans often accompanies allergies to house dust.
  • Cross-reactions between similar foods are also possible, for example, between different nuts, cereals or fish types.
  • A penicillin allergy can lead to a cross-allergy to a specific group of antibiotics (cephalosporins). There is no cross-allergy with food in the case of a penicillin allergy.

There is also a link between contact and food allergens. A typical example of a contact allergy is the latex allergy. This allergy is often accompanied by an allergy to nuts, fruit ( e.g. avocadobanana or kiwi) or vegetables (e.g. potato, celery or tomato).


How does a cross-allergy become noticeable?

The symptoms of a cross-allergy usually appear immediately after eating and are generally localized to the mouth area.

The following symptoms can occur, for example:

  • Swelling, tingling or itching of the lining of the mouth
  • blistering of the lips
  • Redness of the skin around the mouth
  • Burning and slight numbness of the lips

Only rarely does the allergy spread to the entire body. In these cases, the following symptoms may occur:

In the worst case, there is a risk of circulatory collapse, acute shortness of breath or even a life-threatening allergic shock.

Hyposensitization in cross-allergies

Only a so-called hyposensitization, also called desensitization, can combat the cause of cross-allergy in the long term. This treatment aims to get the immune system used to the allergens gradually. The specific allergen is administered to the affected person regularly for several years, usually via a syringe. The dose is increased over time. Desensitization is now also possible through the administration of tablets or drops.

Although this therapy is lengthy, it is the only known method that can counteract the cause of the allergy. The treatment can lead to an improvement in the symptoms or even to the complete elimination of the allergy. At the very least, however, the quality of life of those affected is noticeably improved.

Hyposensitization can be performed on both adults and children. This form of therapy is particularly recommended for people who suffer from hay fever. Autumn is the best time of year to start treatment, as the general pollen count is low.

In the case of serious illnesses such as asthma, however, this type of treatment should be avoided.

Treatment of cross-allergy with antihistamines

Medications can alleviate the symptoms of a cross-allergy. Antihistamines, for example, reduce the effect of the body’s messenger histamine. This is released in large quantities during an allergic reaction and triggers the typical symptoms.

Depending on the active ingredient, antihistamines are available as a nasal spray, eye drops, tablets, syrup or drops. They alleviate the symptoms of cross-allergy and are also used against hay fever. Occasionally, however, they can cause fatigue as a side effect. With second-generation antihistamines, however, this side effect is rare.


Always with you: the emergency setting

If an allergy has been confirmed or severe reactions have already occurred, carrying an emergency kit with you is advisable. This includes antihistamines, cortisone and an adrenaline spray.

In the event of what is known as an allergic shock, in which the person concerned is in a life-threatening state of shock, the medication contained in the emergency kit should be administered immediately after the emergency call has been made.

Do foods have to be avoided?

In the case of a cross-allergy, avoiding allergy-triggering foods is the safest way to prevent the symptoms – because sometimes even small traces of the allergen can trigger severe symptoms. However, heating or freezing them for extended periods can also make many foods tolerable.

Fruit and vegetables, in particular, can be “rendered harmless” by heating. Also, in mush, juice, jam, or cake, many types of fruit, such as apples, are usually tolerable by allergy sufferers. In addition, certain types of food, such as different types of apples, can also contain fewer allergenic substances. If it has been proven that there is only a slight allergy, this can be tried out carefully.

Other allergens, on the other hand, are heat resistant. This is especially true for nuts, celery, fish, soy, and other animal products. These foods should be avoided entirely in the event of an allergy.

Symptoms often occur when the food is eaten, especially when the relevant pollen is in flight. A seasonal renunciation of the respective food can make sense in this case.

Always keep an eye on the cross-allergy

As an allergy sufferer, you should pay attention to your food. The focus is always on the question of the ingredients. In the case of finished products, it is sometimes necessary to read the ingredients carefully. For example, soy can be hidden behind terms such as “vegetable oil” or “emulsifier lecithin”.

To find alternatives to allergy-triggering foods, it is advisable to draw up a nutrition plan together with a nutritionist. This procedure is advisable if certain foods are avoided entirely to prevent malnutrition.

In addition, people with allergies should have their allergies examined regularly. Food allergies can diminish over time or disappear altogether. An allergy test can determine whether the allergy is still active.

Keeping a food diary can also provide information about which foods could be harmful.

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