How to Recognize a Watermelon Allergy

Medically reviewed by Xixi Luo, MD on April 7, 2017Written by Jerisha Parker Gordon

Overview

Though rare, watermelon allergy is possible. Watermelon is widely regarded as one of summer’s tastiest treats. A staple at picnics and cookouts, this fruit is often used to flavor juice, yogurt, and candy.

Symptoms of a watermelon allergy are similar to those of other food allergies. Between 4 and 6 percent of children and 4 percent of adults are estimated to have a food allergy.

Although most food allergies develop during childhood, they may also occur later in life. You can become allergic to watermelon even if you’ve had no problem eating it for years.

Watermelon allergy symptoms

The symptoms of a watermelon allergy typically resemble those of other food allergies.

They include:

  • hives
  • itchy or tingly lips, tongue, or throat
  • coughing
  • stomach pain or cramping
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

Most people with a watermelon allergy will experience symptoms within minutes of encountering the fruit. In some cases, hours may pass before noticeable symptoms appear.

Minor allergic reaction can typically be treated with an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

If this is your first time experiencing allergy symptoms after eating watermelon, see your doctor. They can confirm your allergy through testing. They will also explain how to handle symptoms in the future.

A severe watermelon allergy could lead to anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • difficulty breathing
  • throat swelling
  • tongue swelling
  • difficulty swallowing
  • facial swelling
  • dizziness (vertigo)
  • abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting
  • low blood pressure (shock)

Although anaphylaxis typically doesn’t occur with watermelon allergies, it isn’t impossible. You should seek immediate medical attention if you begin experiencing any symptoms of anaphylaxis.

If you have an epinephrine auto injector (EpiPen), inject the medication while waiting for help to arrive. If you’re unable to administer the medication yourself, signal for help, if possible.

What to look for: Kids and food allergies »

What to do if you’re having an allergic reaction to watermelon

If you’re experiencing symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as difficulty breathing or swallowing, seek emergency medical attention.

These symptoms typically occur within seconds or minutes of being exposed to an allergen. If left untreated, anaphylaxis can be life-threatening.

If you’re with someone who is experiencing anaphylaxis, you should:

  • Call your local emergency services immediately.
  • Check to see if they have an epinephrine auto injector (EpiPen). If needed, help them inject the medication. When in doubt, it’s always safer to give epinephrine than not to give it in a potentially life-saving situation.
  • Remain calm and do what you what you can to help them remain calm, too.
  • Assist them out of any restricting clothing, such as a tight jacket. This will help them breathe easier.
  • Help them lie flat on their back.
  • Raise their feet about 12 inches, and cover them with a jacket or a blanket.
  • If they start vomiting, help them turn onto their side.
  • Take care not to lift their head, especially if they’re having trouble breathing.
  • Be prepared to perform CPR, if necessary.
  • Avoid offering them anything to eat or drink, or other medications.

If this is your first allergic reaction to watermelon and you don’t already have an epinephrine auto injector (EpiPen), your doctor will prescribe one. You should keep this with you at all times in case of an emergency. If possible, try to ensure you have two EpiPens at all times. After an initial anaphylactic event, up to 20 percent of individuals can experience a delayed reaction.

First aid you need to know: How to treat an allergic reaction »

Foods to avoid

If you think you’re developing a watermelon allergy, see your doctor. They can confirm whether you’re experiencing a watermelon allergy or something else.

If your doctor confirms that you have a watermelon allergy, it’s important to remove all traces of the allergen from your diet. This is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction.

People with watermelon allergies should also avoid coming into contact with any other melon in the gourd family.

This includes:

  • cantaloupe
  • honeydew
  • cucumber

You should also avoid:

  • bananas
  • zucchini
  • celery
  • oranges
  • papaya
  • peaches
  • avocados
  • kiwi
  • tomatoes

These foods may trigger a similar allergic response. Ragweed pollen, which is common during the summer months, may also be an issue.

If you’re eating out, confirm that your dish doesn’t contain any of your potential or confirmed allergens. And if you’re unsure whether watermelon is in a drink or food you’ve been given, ask. Reading food labels is essential.

Work with your doctor on how to handle accidental contact with the allergen. An OTC antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), may be enough to curb your symptoms, or an epinephrine auto injector (EpiPen) may be necessary.

Q&A: Food substitutes

Q:

What can I eat in place of watermelon and other gourds?

A:

If you have a watermelon allergy, it’s best to avoid other types of melons, cucumber, avocado, zucchini, and bananas unless your doctor states it is safe to do so. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables that you can eat, including apples, apricots, cherries, raspberries, blueberries, bell peppers, onions, garlic, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, spinach, carrots and potatoes. 

Healthline Medical TeamAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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