Growing Up With Allergic Rhinitis

Why I eat the way that I do…

When I was six years old, I experienced some scary, unexplained symptoms, such as anaphylaxis, asthma, and allergic conjunctivitis (swollen eyes/eyelids). After several scary visits to the hospital, I was given an Epipen and inhaler in case of another emergency.

Around the same time, in the spring of 2000, I visited a medical doctor who specializes in allergic rhinitis, amongst other conditions. He informed me that I am allergic to certain foods, weeds, grasses, mold spores, and pollen grains (i.e. birch “sperm” — seriously, that’s what the “pollen” really is. My sophomore biology teacher ensured that I had the biological jargon engrained in my brain before I moved on to junior year Chemistry. Check out the article, “The Remarkable Biology of Pollen,” by The Society of Plant Physiologists to learn more about the pesky male gametophytes that make some of us sneeze in the springtime, and others year round).

My doctor also informed my mother and me that I am sensitive to certain foods. Essentially, my mouth becomes itchy when I eat certain things due to “oral allergy syndrome” (OAS), a term coined in the 1980s, my eyes become itchy or swollen (allergic conjunctivitis), or worse, my throat begins to close (a sign of anaphylactic shock). 

My doctor further explained to my mother, who later simplified his highly complex, scientific lexicon to me, that “cross-reactions” occur when the proteins in one substance are like the proteins in another. As a result, the immune system sees them as the same.”

Knowing the aforementioned circumstances, I avoided foods that may cross-react with other known allergens.

As I got older, while keeping a Benadryl nearby, I experimented with the foods that could potentially cause an allergic reaction. During these “experiments,” I found that certain foods (and species of foods) yielded unsavory results. For example, apples, carrots, plums, peaches, cherries, and nectarines all make my tongue and mouth itchy, whereas other potential “risky foods” do not.

Keeping an up-to-date food diary, which simply means writing down the way that I feel after eating/drinking certain foods, helps me pinpoint my “trigger foods.”

Interestingly, however, modern allergy specialists also acknowledge that often certain combinations of foods will produce an allergic reaction even when the individual foods can be eaten alone without harm (Dr. Silverstein, Allergies). Additionally, the state of the food (cooked or raw) can impact an individual’s reaction. In accordance with this, I notice that I can tolerate certain fruits and vegetables when they are boiled, baked, or cooked in any way, but not when they are raw.

I am not a medical doctor, therefore I cannot definitively conclude that my severe reactions were caused by ingesting foods; however, I do know that I feel better (physically, emotionally, and mentally) when I avoid certain things. Whether correlation or causation, the food that I create and consume will always cater to my specific dietary needs.