Life

Pollen Food Syndrome becoming increasingly common

As if the stuffy nose and itchy eyes weren't bad enough, people with hay fever are also more prone to Pollen Food Syndrome. Not sure what that is? Emma Boyd finds out...

PFS is a form of allergic reaction where symptoms tend to be limited to the mouth and throat

ARE you familiar with Oral Allergy Syndrome? Well, if you've ever eaten something – and then a few minutes later had a weird tingling feeling in your mouth that you've never experienced before – you could be one of the many people who has the condition, more commonly known as Pollen Food Syndrome (PFS).

It's basically a form of allergic reaction, where symptoms tend to be limited to the mouth and throat, and is more common in people who also suffer from hay fever, though anybody and all ages can be affected.

WHAT IS IT?

Amena Warner, head of Clinical Services at Allergy UK (www.allergyuk.org), says: "Oral Allergy Syndrome was originally the name given to a set of oral symptoms that arise from a 'cross reactivity' with birch pollen. Now it is more widely recognised that other pollens, from grass and weeds as well as trees, can cause these same symptoms, which is why it is now termed Pollen Food Syndrome, or PFS. It is becoming increasingly common and we are seeing children displaying these symptoms, as well as adults."

WHAT CAUSES IT?

PFS is caused by proteins found in the likes of fresh fruit, raw vegetables, nuts and spices, which have a similar structure to the type found in pollen from trees, grasses or weeds.

The most common pollen found in PFS is birch tree pollen, as it contains the allergen Bet v 1, which is highly cross-reactive to a wide range of plant foods.

The reason PFS is most common in those with hay fever is down to the immune system confusing the similar proteins, identifying the protein as pollen and causing the individual to have an allergic reaction. However, that doesn't mean that everybody with hay fever will have PFS.

The most common foods associated with the condition include apples, peaches, kiwi, hazelnuts and almonds.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

With PFS reactions, symptoms usually come on within minutes of eating a particular substance, and typically include a tingling or itching sensation in the mouth and throat. There might be swelling too, affecting the mouth, lips and tongue, plus itchy eyes or itching inside the nose. Generally, symptoms do not become severe and will calm down within an hour. Rinsing your mouth out with water, or having a warm drink, can help, as this will prevent any remaining allergens from activating.

However – while serious reactions are rare, it's important to be aware that they can happen and should be treated with due caution. For severe reactions, swelling might be much worse, possibly leading to breathing difficulties, along with nausea, vomiting and feeling light-headed. Antihistamine might be a good temporary source of treatment, but if you're concerned and somebody is showing signs of a very severe reaction, seek medical help immediately.

:: For more information about Pollen Food Syndrome and other allergies, visit Allergy UK or call their helpline on 01322 619 898.

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