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Citrus Fruit Allergy: What Is It and How to Keep Your Diet Healthy Without Citrus

A citrus fruit allergy isn’t as common as gluten or dairy allergy. However, a citrus fruit allergy can range from mild to severe. So, it’s definitely something you want to pay attention to.

If you think you might have an allergy to citrus fruit, keep reading to learn all the details, and how you can keep your diet healthy without the citrus.

What is a citrus fruit allergy?

There are a couple different ways people can be have a citrus fruit allergy. Let’s look at two of the most popular.

#1: Cross-reactivity

The majority of people with a citrus fruit allergy experience something called oral allergy syndrome, or OAS, which is also referred to as pollen-food syndrome. Here’s the connection between citrus fruit and pollen.

The body sees these certain substances as a threat, and it develops antibodies to fight against these substances, or “allergens.” For people with pollen-food syndrome, their bodies have antibodies to fight against airborne pollen.

The only problem is this pollen is often similar to proteins found in citrus fruits. Therefore, when you eat a citrus fruit, or come into contact with one, your body may react the same way it would against airborne pollens, that is, with OAS. This is called cross-reactivity.

So, most of the time, if you’re allergic to citrus fruit, it’s because the proteins in citrus resemble airborne pollen and your body can’t tell the difference between the two.

Research shows that people with an allergy to grass pollen can be vulnerable to citrus allergies.

#2: Limonene allergy

There are some people who have a “true” allergy to citrus fruits, however, this is much less common. People tend to react to the proteins in citrus, or a chemical called limonene.

Because citrus fruits share many of the same proteins and because all citrus fruits have limonene, it’s likely that if you’re allergic to one citrus fruit, you’re allergic to all the rest, too.

When do people get citrus fruit allergy?

You can develop an allergy to citrus fruit at any time. It can actually occur in adults who have been eating citrus fruits for years without any issue.

So, even if you’ve never had a problem with oranges, limes, lemons, etc., but notice symptoms now, remember you may have developed an allergy later in life.

Citrus fruit allergy symptoms

Most of the time, if you have a citrus allergy, you experience symptoms in a localized area where the raw fruit has come into contact with your body.

Localized symptoms of OAS usually include intense tingling and/or itching on the lips, tongue, and throat. The lips and gums may also become red and start to swell.

Sometimes, people don’t experience these symptoms if the fruit is cooked. That’s because cooking can break down the proteins which the body reacts against.

Some people are also allergic to the peels of citrus fruits. And if they come into contact with them, they can experience contact dermatitis because the skin releases inflammatory chemicals once it comes into contact with the allergens present in the citrus peel.

The symptoms of contact dermatitis include red skin, burning skin, dry, flaky skin, itching, swelling, and blisters.

In extreme cases, the allergic reaction can be severe and develop into anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening medical emergency. Symptoms can include hives, swelling of the mouth and throat, difficulty breathing, flushed skin, vomiting or diarrhea, and low blood pressure.

It is rare that someone experiences a citrus allergy so severe. However, if you notice these symptoms, please seek medical attention immediately.

What to do if you have a citrus fruit allergy

If you suspect you have a citrus fruit allergy, try taking a break from them altogether – for a month or so. Then, reintroduce one and observe your body. If you experience OAS symptoms or contact dermatitis, you may very well be allergic.

Meet with your doctor who can perform an allergy test to identify what exactly is the problem. Typically, doctors administer a skin test by pricking the skin with the diluted allergen to observe any reaction.

You may also get a blood test which measures the amount of the immunoglobulin E antibodies you have circulating in your blood.

Do you have a pollen allergy that’s now manifesting as a citrus fruit allergy? Do you have a “true” citrus fruit allergy? Your doctor can help you get clear on what’s happening in your body.

Citrus fruits to avoid

Here is a concise list of all citrus fruits to avoid if you have an allergy to citrus:

  • Grapefruits
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Kumquats
  • Mandarins
  • Oranges

Citrus fruit is also used in processed food. Therefore, avoiding the actual fruit may not be enough to avoid an allergic reaction.  If you have an allergy, be sure to read the ingredient list, especially for the following products:

  • Baked goods
  • Beverages, including lemonade and juices
  • Candies
  • Chutneys
  • Cocktails
  • Dressings
  • Herbal tea
  • Jams and marmalades
  • Marinades
  • Pickles
  • Sauces
  • Seafood dishes
  • Supplements, especially Vitamin C
  • Yogurt

How to have a healthy balanced diet without citrus

The best way to deal with a citrus fruit allergy is to avoid them altogether. You can also try cooking your fruits. This can deactivate the allergenic proteins and allows you to eat them without any symptoms.

Without citrus, you may worry that you won’t get enough Vitamin C. After all, most of us believe citrus fruits are the best form of Vitamin C and antioxidants.

However, you’d be surprised at just how many other fruits and vegetables you can enjoy that take care of all your Vitamin C needs.

Top fruits:

  • Acerola Cherries
  • American persimmons
  • Black currants
  • Guava
  • Kakadu plums (They contain up to 100 times more Vitamin C than oranges!)
  • Kiwis
  • Lychees
  • Mangoes
  • Papayas
  • Rose Hips
  • Strawberries

Top vegetables:

  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Chili peppers
  • Kale
  • Mustard spinach
  • Parsley
  • Sweet yellow peppers
  • Thyme

As you can see, there are lots of delicious, Vitamin C-rich foods you can enjoy even if you have a citrus fruit allergy and have to enjoy oranges, lemons, and limes.


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