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Oral allergy syndrome

Author: Dr Emily Ryder, Dermatology Registrar, Auckland, New Zealand. Editor in Chief: Adjunct A/Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand. Copy edited by Maria McGivern/Gus Mitchell. January 2018. 

Oral allergy syndrome — codes and concepts

What is oral allergy syndrome?

Oral allergy syndrome refers to oropharyngeal symptoms triggered by eating specific raw foods.

As it occurs in people with pollen allergy, oral allergy syndrome is also known as pollen-food syndrome.

Who gets oral allergy syndrome?

Oral allergy syndrome affects older children and adults who have pollen allergies, which are common causes of hay fever and atopic asthma. It is not common for younger children or babies to develop oral allergy syndrome.

  • Grass pollen allergy may be associated with oral allergy syndrome to raw orange, kiwifruit, tomato, melon, watermelon, potato, and peanut.
  • Birch pollen allergy may be associated with oral allergy syndrome to raw apple, kiwifruit, tomato, nectarine, apricot, pear, plum, prune, cherry, carrot, celery, parsnip, potato, parsley, dill, coriander, green capsicum, peas, lentils, beans, peanut, hazelnut, walnut, almond, and sunflower seeds.
  • Ragweed pollen may be associated with oral allergy syndrome to raw banana, cucumber, courgette, melon, and sunflower seeds.

Food that can cause oral allergy syndrome

What causes oral allergy syndrome?

Oral allergy syndrome is caused by cross-reactivity of an immunoglobulin E (IgE)-mediated ('immediate') immune reaction to specific proteins found in inhaled allergens (pollens) with a similar protein found in some raw fruit and vegetables. Cooking these fruits and vegetables alters the proteins so that most people with oral allergy syndrome are symptom-free with cooked fruits and vegetables.

It is unclear why some people with pollen allergies develop oral allergy syndrome while many do not.

What are the clinical features of oral allergy syndrome? 

Oral allergy syndrome can affect the mouth, tongue, ears, and/or throat.

  • Itching, redness, or swelling occur soon after eating particular raw fruit and vegetables.
  • Other symptoms may include throat pain, nausea, sneezing, a runny nose, and eyes, and swelling around the eyes.
  • The reaction usually occurs immediately after eating the trigger food, but symptoms can evolve over more than an hour.
  • Symptoms usually settle within an hour of onset.

What are the complications of oral allergy syndrome?

Oral allergy syndrome usually settles quickly without complications. If symptoms spread beyond the mouth area after eating raw fruit or vegetables, medical advice should be sought. In the rare cases where the person's breathing is affected, although it is not likely to be serious, immediate medical attention is necessary.

A small proportion of patients with oral allergy syndrome develop systemic symptoms or anaphylaxis.

How is oral allergy syndrome diagnosed?

Oral allergy syndrome may be diagnosed by a specialist in oral medicine, allergy or dermatology based on the clinical history.

Performing blood tests (for specific IgE immune reactions) and skin prick testing to fresh foods can be helpful in some cases but these tests alone do not diagnose oral allergy syndrome and referral to a specialist clinic is required. Commercial food extracts are usually not suitable for skin-prick testing for oral allergy syndrome because the protein allergens are typically unstable and may be altered during the extraction process.

What is the differential diagnosis for oral allergy syndrome?

Differential diagnoses to be considered include:

What is the treatment for oral allergy syndrome?

People with oral allergy syndrome are advised to avoid the raw foods that trigger their symptoms. Only the foods associated with symptoms need to be avoided. Most people with oral allergy syndrome are able to eat cooked forms of the same foods without triggering symptoms.

In case of accidental ingestion of the trigger foods, symptoms of oral allergy syndrome usually quickly subside once the food is swallowed or removed from the mouth and usually no treatment is needed. Rinsing the mouth with water may help to reduce symptoms. If symptoms persist, an antihistamine tablet may be helpful.

Immunotherapy to pollens may reduce symptoms for a small proportion of patients, although this treatment is usually not recommended. 

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Related information



  1. Sussman G, Sussman A, Sussman D. Oral allergy syndrome. CMAJ  2010; 182: 1210–11. doi:10.1503/cmaj.090314. Journal.
  2. Kashyap RR, Kashyap RS. Oral allergy syndrome: an update for stomatologists. J Allergy. 2015; 2015: 543928. DOI: 10.1155/2015/543928. PubMed
  3. Saunders S, Platt MP. Oral allergy syndrome. Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck. Surg 2015; 23: 230-4. DOI: 10.1097/MOO.0000000000000160. PubMed
  4. Chen HX, Yount WJ, Culton DA. Food allergen-mediated exacerbations of oral lichen planus. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2016 Oct;41(7):779-81. DOI: 10.1111/ced.12929. PubMed
  5. Minciullo PL, Paolino G, Vacca M, Gangemi S, Nettis E. Unmet diagnostic needs in contact oral mucosal allergies. Clin Mol Allergy 2016; 14 (1): 10. DOI: 10.1186/s12948-016-0047-y. PubMed

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