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Many Hay Fever Sufferers Are Unaware They Could Have Pollen Food Syndrome

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As hay fever season commences, it’s pertinent to highlight a lesser-known condition linked to it, pollen food syndrome (PFS).

Pollen food syndrome, also known as oral allergy syndrome, is an allergic reaction to certain fruits, vegetables, and nuts caused by a cross-reaction between pollen and similar proteins in these foods. It affects 1 in 50 people, often coinciding with hay fever. Dr Sabah Salman, a GP and food allergy expert at LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, sheds light on the condition through a series of responses to common questions. For a visual guide, an image listing common PFS trigger foods is available. Further information can be sourced directly from Dr Salman or through the provided contact details.

For those covering this topic, please include a link to the LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor’s allergy information hub.

Despite its prevalence, a recent survey conducted by LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor shows a significant lack of awareness about Pollen Food Syndrome, with less than 30% of a sample of 502 UK adults familiar with the condition. This disconnect is more pronounced given that half of the respondents suffer from hay fever, yet 71% are unaware of their potential susceptibility to PFS.

As the hay fever season approaches, Dr Salman explains the intricacies of PFS, from common triggers to proactive management strategies: “Pollen Food Syndrome, or oral allergy syndrome as it is sometimes known, manifests as a hypersensitive reaction to the proteins in raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Those affected might experience itching or swelling around the mouth, lips, and throat shortly after consuming these raw foods,” explains Dr Salman.

PFS is surprisingly common, affecting about 2% of the UK population, correlating closely with those who experience hay fever. The condition is triggered by a range of plant-based foods. “A significant overlap in the protein structures of certain pollens and foods means that the immune system can mistakenly identify harmless foods as potential threats, leading to allergic reactions,” Dr Salman notes.

Identifying and avoiding trigger foods is crucial for those affected. Common culprits include apples, peaches, kiwis, hazelnuts, and almonds. Dr Salman adds: “On average, individuals with pollen food syndrome might need to avoid up to four different types of plant foods.”

The symptoms of PFS are generally mild but can escalate rapidly. “Symptoms typically manifest within minutes of exposure and can range from mild itching to more severe reactions such as nausea and breathing difficulties. In cases of severe symptoms, immediate medical intervention is necessary,” advises Dr Salman.

For mild reactions, discontinuing consumption of the trigger food and drinking water may suffice. However, if symptoms persist, taking a non-sedating antihistamine is recommended, and seeking medical advice is advised if there is no improvement.

Preventing reactions can often be as simple as avoiding raw forms of allergenic foods. Cooking alters the allergens, rendering them harmless. “Cooking methods matter; for example, foods in soups might not trigger symptoms, whereas the same foods in a stir-fry might,” Dr Salman explains.

In addition to dietary adjustments, those with severe reactions may require an adrenaline pen and should always carry it.

If symptoms of PFS appear, it is advisable to consult a doctor. “Diagnosis is usually straightforward and can often be confirmed without invasive testing,” concludes Dr Salman.

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