Citrus Allergy: Can You Be Allergic to Citrus Fruits?
Although it’s a rare type of food allergy, sometimes, people may develop an allergic reaction to citrus fruits, such as lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits and tangerines. The reaction may be triggered by the fresh citrus fruit and juice or by the peel. Below, you will find information about the symptoms, causes and treatment of citrus allergy.
What Are the Symptoms of Citrus Allergy?
In most cases, the allergic reaction occurs after you eat something that contains raw citrus fruit(s). This condition is associated with oral allergy syndrome, or OAS. Normally, this type of allergy is not triggered by cooked citrus fruits. The symptoms usually appear wherever the fruit touches your skin, for example, your throat, lips, tongue and gums. They may include itching, tingling, reddening and mild swelling.
Oral allergy syndrome is not an inborne condition. Instead, you may develop it later in life, even after eating these fruits for many years before.
If your reaction is caused by the peels of citrus fruits, you will rather develop a contact dermatitis after a contact with the peel. When an allergen affects your skin, it releases inflammatory chemicals that lead to the symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis, which include redness, burning, severe itching, dryness, flakiness, and swelling of the skin, as well as blisters.
Systemic allergic reactions to citrus fruits are also possible, but they are even less common. In some cases, people may have an anaphylactic reaction, which is a life-threatening condition and requires an immediate medical attention. If you are experiencing an asthma attack, hives, swollen mouth and throat, difficulty breathing, flushed skin, nausea, vomiting, drop in blood pressure or weakness, you should seek medical help immediately.
What Is Citrus Allergy Caused by?
People have an allergic reaction when their immune system perceives a normally harmless substance as something dangerous and releases special chemicals known as histamine to defend your body. Such substances are called allergens, and there are different kinds of them.
In some cases, people suffering from pollen allergies may also develop allergies to citrus fruits. Expert determine this phenomenon as cross-reactivity.
As mentioned earlier, an allergic reaction may be triggered by either a fresh citrus fruits, or its peel. A citric acid, however, does not affect your immune system. This means that, even if it can lead to irritation of your skin and mouth or cause a stomach ache, the citric acid is not an allergen. It is a chemical contained in boxed citrus juices and meant to provide this specific tart flavor.
What Is Cross-Reactivity?
The majority of citrus allergy cases are associated with oral allergy syndrome induced by pollen allergies. This cross-reactivity is caused by the fact that pollen and citrus fruits contain similar proteins. Thus, if you react to pollen, especially grass pollen, you may also react to a fruit.
This information is based on a study that was published in 2013. The study involved over 70 participants with grass pollen allergies, who were exposed to various fresh citrus fruits with a prick test. The test showed that almost 40 percent of the participants reacted, in one way or another, to the fruits, as well.
What Symptoms Does Limonene Allergy Cause?
When allergies occur after a contact with citrus fruit peels, the reaction is most likely triggered by limonene. It is a chemical that is contained in the citrus fruit peel and that is often used as an ingredient in different cosmetics and perfumes.
What Causes Systemic Allergy?
When it comes to citrus fruits, systemic allergic reactions are very rare. However, there were some cases, when oranges and other citrus fruits caused a severe anaphylactic reaction. In addition, an anaphylactic reaction may occur, if you exercise soon after consuming the allergen. This is a form of food allergy that can be determined as food-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis.
In general, systemic allergies triggered by citrus fruits are not studied well yet, and more research needs to be conducted in order to understand the condition.
How Are Citrus Allergies Diagnosed?
If you have a pollen allergy, your allergist should also conduct a skin prick test to find out whether you are allergic to fruits. During this test, the doctor inserts a small amount of an allergen into your skin. After 15-20 minutes, the test provides the result. In case of an allergy, you will have a bump surrounded by a red ring on the spot where the needle was inserted.
It is more difficult to spot an allergic reaction in children, as they often describe their feelings in a different way. Therefore, you should keep an eye on your child when you are giving him/her new things to try.
When anaphylactic reaction is suspected, medical attention is required immediately. If you are at risk of having anaphylaxis, your doctor may recommend you carrying a special device called EpiPen with you.
How to Avoid Citrus Allergy Symptoms?
When it comes to the treatment of allergies, there is no actual cure for this condition. Avoiding the triggers is probably the best and most effective way to keep your symptoms at minimum. In case of citrus allergy, experts recommend following the elimination diet. This means you will need to avoid foods that contain citrus.
To start with, eliminate raw citrus fruits and fruit juices from your diet. When buying juice at a grocery store, always make sure to check the label, because many multifruit juices contain citrus juice, as well. Unripe and freshly picked fruits should be avoided. In fact, unripe fruits can cause more serious reactions than ripe ones. The same applies to citrus fruit seeds and rinds. If you eat out, you should ask about the ingredients of your meal, as citrus zest rind is often used in baking and salads. Finally, since artificially-flavored sweets and vitamin C supplement usually contain citrus flavoring, you’d better stay away from this kind of things, too.
Most allergic reactions to citrus fruits are triggered by raw fruits. When cooked, they usually don’t affect your immune system. This is due to the fact that the heat often helps to deactivate the allergic proteins in the fruits. If you are cooking based on a recipe that requires citrus fruit or zest, you can replace these products with lemon verbena or sumac.