I’m a GP – here’s the 4 signs of little known food allergy that most mistake for hay fever

DOCTORS have warned of a little-known food allergy often confused with hay fever.

One in 50 Brits suffers from pollen feeding syndrome – a little-known reaction to raw fruit or vegetables.

Food pollen syndrome is often disguised as hay fever because both conditions share the same symptoms


Food pollen syndrome is often disguised as hay fever because both conditions share the same symptomsPhoto credit: SWNS

The common condition is usually harmless, causing only a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes.

according to dr Sabah Salman, however, the allergy can have more serious side effects for some.

The GP, who works in south London, said: “There may be more extreme symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, difficulty swallowing and breathing.”

“Of course, you should always see a doctor urgently in this case.”

Food pollen syndrome, which can also be triggered by nuts, is often disguised as hay fever because it triggers a similar response in the body.

dr Sabah working for Lloyds Pharmacy called: “Many plant-based foods, such as fruits and grains, have a protein structure very similar in shape to pollen from the species of trees, grasses and weeds that cause hay fever.

“Your immune system doesn’t always tell the difference between the pollen you breathe in from trees, for example, and the pollen structure in the plant foods you eat.”

“Essentially, pollen feeding syndrome occurs when the immune system recognizes the dietary protein you eat as an allergen and triggers an allergic reaction, resulting in symptoms similar to hay fever.”

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Other foods such as raw apples, fresh peaches, kiwi, hazelnuts and almonds are also triggers.

Most people with the condition need to avoid at least four plant-based foods, the GP said.


according to dr Sabah, the symptoms of the condition are usually mild and closely resemble hay fever. This includes:

  1. Redness, slight swelling or itching of the lips, tongue, inside of the mouth, soft palate and ears
  2. Itching and slight swelling in the throat area
  3. Abdominal pain, nausea and even vomiting
  4. Sneezing, runny nose, or eye symptoms can also occur if small amounts of the trigger food get into the nose or eyes

Symptoms often begin within ten minutes of eating the allergic food.

In more severe cases, the condition can cause anaphylaxis — a severe and potentially fatal reaction to an allergy.

Symptoms include:

  • lightheadedness, dizziness or fainting
  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • panting
  • A fast heartbeat
  • Moist skin
  • confusion and fear
  • collapse or unconsciousness

According to government estimates, up to 30 people die each year from anaphylaxis.

For some people, allergies can be triggered by food preparation alone, explained Dr. sabah

“For example, airborne food particles can trigger sneezing, runny nose and eye irritation, and peeling fruits and vegetables can cause skin irritation,” she said.


Generally, mild symptoms of pollen-food syndrome resolve within an hour without treatment.

“All you have to do is stop eating and drink some water,” the expert said.

However, if you’re concerned or your symptoms are uncomfortable, you can also take an antihistamine,” she added.

If you have taken an antihistamine but your symptoms do not improve, you should seek medical advice.

You should also talk to a doctor if you have a food allergy that affects your breathing or circulation.

Many people who suffer from foodborne pollen syndrome can tolerate cooked or canned foods.

This is because the food has been “denatured,” said Dr. Salman.

“This means that a soup containing allergic foods might not cause any symptoms, but a roasted vegetable — that has been cooked very gently — could be a problem,” she explained.

Some sufferers find that they can tolerate certain types of the same food. For example, one type of apple may evoke reactions while another may not.

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Despite the prevalence of the condition, very few Britons are unaware of the allergy.

A survey of 500 Britons conducted by Lloyds Pharmacy found that 78 per cent had never heard of foodborne pollen syndrome.

Zack Zwiezen

Zack Zwiezen is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Zack Zwiezen joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing zackzwiezen@ustimespost.com.

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