Not everyone can eat cherries (Prunus avium). While not as common as other food allergies, it’s still possible to be allergic to cherries.
If you suspect cherry allergy in yourself or a loved one, read on to learn more about the signs and risk factors. Speak with an allergist for diagnosis and treatment.
An allergic reaction happens when your body responds negatively to certain substances. In the case of food allergies, your immune system attacks the proteins in the foods it rejects, causing negative symptoms.
Any food can be allergenic, though some are more common culprits than others, such as nuts, milk, and soy.
Cherry allergies may be classified as either primary or secondary reactions.
A primary cherry allergy means that you’re allergic to the fruit itself. This is less common than a secondary cherry allergy, which indicates that you’re allergic to pollens in the same family.
Allergies to fruits like cherries are often related to a condition called oral allergy syndrome (OAS). Also called “pollen-food syndrome,” OAS causes mild symptoms, mostly around the mouth and face upon eating the raw or fresh fruit.
You might be allergic to the pollen early in life, and then develop a secondary allergy to a related fruit like cherries as an older child or adult.
One common culprit is birch pollen, which shares similar allergenic proteins to that of cherry trees.
So, if you’re allergic to birch pollen, there’s a chance that you’re allergic to cherries, too. This is sometimes known as “birch-fruit syndrome,” which is a subtype of OAS.
OAS cherry allergens
Cherries alone aren’t common allergens.
If you have OAS, you can be allergic to cherries along with other fruits, vegetables, and nuts that may be related, such as:
If you have a severe, primary cherry allergy, you might experience intense gastrointestinal symptoms after consuming the fruit, including stomach pain or cramping and vomiting.
Food allergies are typically diagnosed by an allergist, a type of medical doctor who specializes in allergies, sensitivities, and immunology.
Upon hearing your initial history of symptoms, they may order either a skin test, blood test, or both. This is the only way you can accurately test for a cherry (or any other kind of food) allergy other than an oral food challenge.
The precise allergen can sometimes depend on where you live — for example, birch pollen allergies could indicate a secondary reaction to cherries.
Some food allergies can come and go, but they can’t be cured. The only way you can effectively “treat” a cherry allergy is by avoiding the fruit and any other secondary allergens.
Sometimes the regular use ofantihistamines, such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) and fexofenadine (Allegra), may help reduce symptoms of a mild reaction, such as hives. Different antihistamines could also work well in OAS treatment.
Prevention altogether is the preferred method of cherry allergy treatment. In addition to avoiding the whole fruit, you’ll also want to avoid eating foods made with cherries, such as:
- baked goods
People with OAS may be able to reduce allergic reactions to cherries by cooking them, according to the University of Manchester, since cooking breaks down or changes the proteins in the cherries that the body reacts to.
This is not the case for a primary cherry allergy.
Sometimes people with severe food allergies are at risk for a reaction called anaphylaxis.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, about 1.7 percent of people with OAS develop anaphylaxis.
An anaphylactic shock can shut down some of your body’s major systems, causing the following symptoms:
- difficulty breathing
- tightness in the chest and throat
- facial swelling
- itchy skin
- low blood pressure
- rapid heart beat
- stomach pain
- nausea or vomiting
- passing out
Epinephrine, not antihistamines, for anaphylaxis
If your doctor has diagnosed you with a primary allergy to cherries or other foods, they may prescribe epinephrine injections for you to have on hand. These shots are especially recommended if you have a history of anaphylactic shock.
Epinephrine injections can minimize the severity of an allergic reaction if you’ve been exposed to cherries. You’ll still need to go to the hospital after your injection to make sure you don’t require any additional treatments.
You can’t use any other types of allergy medications or rescue inhalers in the case of anaphylaxis.
The reaction is simply too severe at this point. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. Don’t wait for symptoms to worsen.
Cherry allergies are possible, especially in the case of OAS. However, due to the cross-reactivity with other fruits and even some vegetables, an allergy to cherries can be difficult to pinpoint. This is why an allergist can be helpful in diagnosing any suspected food allergies.
If you’re diagnosed with a cherry allergy, work with an allergist to determine which other foods, if any, you might need to avoid.
Unlike other types of allergies, the only true way to prevent complications from food allergies is to avoid those foods altogether. You can talk to your allergist about what other steps you can take in case of accidental cherry exposure.