Allergic to pollen? Cross-reactivity may be causing your food allergy symptoms too!



Spring, with its flowering trees and aromatic blossoms, is just around the corner – which, for many, means the start of dreaded hay fever season. But pollen isn’t the only thing allergy sufferers need to worry about …

Cross reactivity can happen when the immune system reacts to the proteins found in one substance because they are structurally similar to the proteins found in another. As a result, the immune system sees them as identical and reacts to them in the same way. So, for example, if you’re allergic to pollen, you may also find that eating certain fruits or vegetables sparks your allergy symptoms. Cross reactivity can occur between different foods and also, more surprisingly, between pollen and foods, and latex and foods. Learn how cross reactivity may be affecting you!


Pollen and foods

Hayfever (also known as allergic rhinitis) affects around 15 per cent of the Australian population – that’s over 3 million people[1]! Common symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose (usually a clear, thin discharge)
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Itchy nose, roof of the mouth, eyes and/or skin

Not surprisingly, around 95 per cent[2] of hay fever sufferers are allergic to some type of pollen. But what you mightn’t know is that these people may also develop allergy symptoms when exposed to certain foods, a condition known as oral allergy syndrome (OAS).

In fact, cross-reaction affects up to 80 per cent[3] of individuals with pollen allergies! This is because pollen proteins, which play a key role in plant growth and disease defense, are structurally similar to the proteins founds in other plant foods, including raw vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts.


Know the common culprits

If pollen makes you sneeze, watch out for these common cross-reactive foods:

  • Birch pollen – apples, carrots, celery, pears, tomatoes, cherries and tree nuts.
  • Goosefoot pollen – banana, melon and peach. Particularly sensitive people may also experience allergy symptoms after eating nectarine, asparagus, kiwi, potato, olive and/or onion.
  • Mugwort pollen (weed) – carrot, celery, aniseed and peach.
  • Ragweed pollen – melon, cucumber, banana and sunflower.
  • Timothy grass – apple, litchi, tomato, celery, corn, bell pepper and paprika.

Most people with pollen allergies cross-react with two or more foods, which may cause symptoms such as itching, tingling, and swelling in the mouth, lips and throat. But it can also present with other, less common, symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and eczema. In some cases, cross-reactions may only occur during high pollen seasons (when the immune system is in overdrive) and may be less prevalent during other times of the year. And, for this reason, some people may be able to tolerate cross-reactive foods outside of high pollen seasons.


Latex and foods

Allergies to latex often come about as a result of a reaction to the residual parts of plant proteins found in latex rubber. And cross reactions can occur between these proteins and the proteins found in certain fruits. In fact, around 30 to 80 per cent[4] of people with latex allergy experience symptoms when they eat one or more of the following:

  • Bananas
  • Avocado
  • Chestnut
  • Apple
  • Kiwi
  • Potato
  • Tomato
  • Melon
  • Papaya

Less common cross-reactive foods include fig, pineapple, peach, pear, passion fruit, walnut, hazelnut, almond, grapefruit, strawberry, spinach, lettuce and celery.


Cross-reactions between foods

Not surprisingly, there’s also quite a high amount of cross-reactivity between different foods, especially the most common food allergens. Watch out for:

  • Shellfish – there is a high degree of cross reactivity between crustacean shellfish (shrimp, lobster, crab, crawfish). Cross reactions are less commonly seen between crustacean shellfish and non-crustacean shellfish like squid, scallops, clams, oysters.
  • Fish – there’s frequent cross reactions among different species of fish, even between salt and fresh water!
  • Milk – there’s about a 90 per cent[5] risk of cross reactivity between cow’s milk and other mammals milk (e.g. goat or sheep)
  • Nuts – about 35 per cent[6] of toddlers with peanut allergies will also develop sensitivities to tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews etc.). There’s also a high chance of cross reactivity between cashew and pistachio and between walnut and pecan.
  • Peach and melons – these fruits commonly cross react with other fruits. But these are generally mild reactions.

Other less frequent cross reactions may occur between:

  • Hen’s eggs, other bird’s eggs and poultry meat
  • Cereal (wheat, oat, barley, rye, millet, sorghum, maize, rice) and other types of cereal
  • Seeds (sesame, mustard, sunflower)


Worried about pollen and cross-reactions? Try our natural allergy treatment …

At Health & Wellness Australia & Auckland (HWA), we use a technique called muscle testing (or kinesiology) to help identify your allergy triggers. Following testing, you can work with your practitioner to address your sensitivities using a natural allergy treatment called Positive Association Technique (PAT).

PAT is a non-invasive, holistic therapy, which:

  • draws on acupressure and kinesiology techniques
  • aims to re-train your body
  • may reduce your reactions to environmental triggers that may be causing or exacerbating your symptoms.

Some cases may be complex so our naturopaths may also recommend supplements, herbs and lifestyle advice to help you achieve the best long-term results.


Want to know if PAT is right for you? Get in touch!

Send our practitioners a question using our Ask a practitioner service, and you’ll get a call-back or reply straight to your email inbox.

You can also request an appointment with one of our experienced PAT practitioners in one our clinic locationsNorth Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth or Auckland – by:

  • using our Request an appointment service
  • calling our head office on 1300 853 023 (Aust) / 09 479 5997 (NZ), Monday to Saturday, 9am-5pm (EST).


This blog is intended as general information only. PAT cannot cure allergies – it is intended to decrease reactions and help manage allergy-related symptoms. It is not intended to raise unrealistic expectations. If symptoms persist, consult your GP.

[1] AIHW. Allergic rhinitis (‘hay fever’) in Australia.

[2] NHS. Hay fever facts.
[3],4,5 Food Intolerance Diagnostics. Associations between food and other allergies, cross-reactions.

[6] Kids with food allergies. If allergic to one food, do you have to avoid related foods?

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