Symptoms, what to avoid and more

Cherries make a great snack because they’re low in calories and packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds. However, not everyone can enjoy cherries. A cherry allergy is rare, but it can happen, especially in people with pollen allergies.

Like other food allergies, a cherry allergy is a serious condition. It happens when a person’s immune system overreacts to a harmless food protein known as an allergen.

This article will discuss the symptoms, complications, and treatment of a cherry allergy.

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Primary vs secondary allergy

Cherry allergies can be categorized as primary or secondary food allergies. A primary cherry allergy often first appears in early childhood and is diagnosed when a person is allergic to the fruit itself. With a primary allergy, the reaction is triggered when the allergen comes into contact with the intestinal mucosa.

A secondary allergy often appears in older children and adults who have an existing primary allergy to pollen. A reaction occurs because the protein found in some raw fruits and vegetables is very similar to that found in pollen.

The medical term for this condition is oral allergy syndrome (OAS), also called cross-reactivity.

Oral allergy syndrome

OAS, or oral allergy syndrome, is considered a mild form of food allergy. It is caused by cross-reactivity between plant proteins in pollen and raw vegetables, fruits and some nuts.

While some people only report allergies to certain foods, others report symptoms after eating many other fruits and vegetables. A person with OAS reacts to different foods depending on the type of seasonal allergies they are allergic to.

For example, if a person has a primary allergy to birch pollen, they often experience a reaction to pitted fruits, such as cherries. Up to 75% of people allergic to birch pollen will have allergic reactions to foods containing similar proteins.

Common OAS Allergens

Other foods that cross-react with a birch pollen allergy include:

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Melons
  • Peanuts
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnut

Cherry Allergy Symptoms

The most common symptoms of a cherry allergy include:

  • Itchy face, mouth, face, lips or tongue
  • Swelling of the face and mouth
  • Itchy ears
  • Hives around the mouth

Other less common and serious symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • swelling under the skin
  • Intense abdominal pain
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Anaphylaxis

Secondary food allergy symptoms usually occur immediately after eating the fruit and disappear soon after it is swallowed or removed from the mouth.

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a serious and life-threatening allergic reaction that requires immediate treatment. Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include hives, throat swelling, chest tightness, stomach cramps, and difficulty swallowing.

Diagnostic

A food allergy diagnosis usually begins with a visit to an allergist, a specialist trained in diagnosing and testing for food allergies.

An allergist will begin with an initial consultation to help determine if a skin prick or blood test is needed. A diagnosis of oral allergy syndrome is primarily based on clinical history, but will usually be verified by skin testing.

You may also be asked to perform an oral food challenge to confirm the food causing the reaction.

Treatment

Avoiding raw cherries is the best way to treat a cherry allergy. Most people can tolerate cooked cherries since the protein is altered by heat. For a primary cherry allergy, however, cherries must be completely eliminated.

Some people with OAS may only need to avoid food during pollen season, which can make symptoms worse.

Antihistamines like Zyrtec (cetirizine), Benedryl (diphenhydramine), and Allegra (fexofenadine) can help relieve symptoms like itching or tingling in the mouth. Severe reactions can be treated with epinephrine.

Immunotherapy (allergy shots) against pollen may also be beneficial in people with severe OAS.

What to avoid

If you have a secondary cherry allergy or OAS, you may also experience a reaction to foods from the same botanical family.

For a true cherry allergy, you’ll want to avoid all foods that may contain cherries, such as:

  • Jams
  • Jellies
  • Fruit juice
  • Ice
  • Baked goods

Food alternatives

Most people with secondary cherry allergies can tolerate cooked cherries because heating breaks down the proteins responsible for OAS. Because the protein is often concentrated in the skin, you can also tolerate cherries without the skin.

Canned cherries are also more likely to be tolerated and can be a good substitute for fresh cherries.

Summary

Although cherry allergies are rare, they can occur. Most of the time, someone allergic to cherries can have OAS and can also be allergic to other fruits and vegetables that share similar allergens. A person with a true cherry allergy should avoid cherries altogether, while a person with OAS should avoid cherries in raw form. If you’ve been diagnosed with a cherry allergy, it’s important to work closely with your allergist to discuss other foods you may need to avoid.

A word from Verywell

It’s important to talk to an allergist if you experience the same rash or itchy feeling after eating cherries or other foods. Keeping a food diary and noting symptoms can help you identify which foods are triggering your symptoms. It can also help your allergist diagnose and treat your food allergy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is a primary cherry allergy?

    A primary cherry allergy, when you are allergic to the fruit itself, is much less common than other food allergies.

  • Can a cherry allergy go away?

    Cherry allergies can come and go. Symptoms may worsen during allergy season when pollen peaks. However, a cherry allergy is unlikely to go away once it has developed.

  • Which fruit allergy is the most common?

    The most common fruit allergies are peach, apple and kiwi.

  • Can you suddenly be allergic to cherries?

    In the case of oral allergy syndrome, cherry allergies can develop as a secondary allergy in late childhood and adulthood.

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