I put out bowls of cut-up cantaloupe with warm, homemade chocolate chip cookies just as my husband and son were pulling up. My son was having a rough day, so I thought it would be nice to surprise him with his favorite cookies and fresh cantaloupe to cheer him up a little when he got home from an appointment. Well, that was a major fail.
As soon as Joseph started eating the cantaloupe, he looked at me in fear. He said his mouth was feeling extra itchy and his lips felt funny. Then he realized it was the same way he felt when his mouth and throat got itchy after eating strawberries a year ago. He has also reacted in the same way to watermelon.
The reaction to these fruits is different than the more serious, life-threatening anaphylaxis that Joseph, 12, has experienced with other foods to which he is allergic. Instead the fruits on his list of allergies are part of his Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS), common in pollen allergy sufferers, especially those allergic to birch, ragweed and grass pollens. A reaction occurs when “the immune system treats proteins similar to those in pollen that are sometimes found in fruits or vegetables the same way. This ‘cross-reactivity’ is a result of the immune system recognizing that the proteins in these foods are similar (although not exact) and an allergic reaction is the result,” according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
Each allergic reaction is unique, even for the same person to the same food. There’s no guarantee that the next reaction won’t be more serious, even with OAS. While most OAS patients suffer itchy mouth, scratchy throat or hives, there are patients for whom an anaphylactic reaction to those foods is possible, according AAFA.
Although OAS is usually considered less severe, it does not take away the fear when he bites into a food that previously was safe for him to eat and his body starts to react. At the moment he starts feeling the tingling in his mouth and throat, he doesn’t know whether this food will send his body into an anaphylactic reaction. All he knows is it doesn’t feel right.
Once the fear of a larger reaction passed, the disappointment set in. Cantaloupe is yet another food that Joseph now must avoid, in addition to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame, mustard, watermelon and strawberries. His list of food allergies seems to keep growing and the fruits that have been added in the past few years as part of OAS are in some ways tougher for him to accept. He has enjoyed those fruits before so he knows what he’s missing, unlike the other allergens that he never had. He’s never tasted a hot slice of pizza from the local pizzeria, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a treat from the ice cream truck. But homemade strawberry shortcake? Yes, that he will miss.
As I looked at all of the fabulous ways people are using watermelon on National Watermelon Day yesterday, I was reminded of a blog post I wrote five years ago titled “Watermelon Smiles” . In that post I heralded the joys of the juicy, sweet fruit as a wonderful, natural allergy-friendly food. Well, the salad I mentioned making so often back then had three fruits that Joseph can no longer eat.
The bounty of fruits available during the summer has lost a little bit of luster as Joseph looks at each fresh fruit as a possible OAS offender that might join his growing list of allergies. Still, there are still plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits that he enjoys, and Joseph always uses his wonderful sense of humor to put a witty spin on any disappointment. But the next time I want to give him a treat to lift his spirits, perhaps I’ll just stick to his favorite homemade chocolate chip cookies.