A citrus fruit allergy refers to an exaggerated response of the immune system triggered by citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges. Although a citrus fruit allergy typically occurs in older children and young adults, it can develop at any age. Because symptoms can be severe -- and sometimes even life-threatening -- it’s essential to understand what causes a citrus fruit allergy and how it can be treated.
Citrus Allergy Causes
Profilins, a protein found in citrus fruits, typically cause a citrus fruit allergic reaction. In some people, the immune system doesn’t recognize the profilin as food. Instead, the immune system mistakes profilin as a harmful substance and releases antibodies, histamines and other chemicals to fight the “enemy.” This immune system response triggers the symptoms that occur during an allergic reaction to citrus fruits. Allergic reaction symptoms are also sometimes caused by a condition called oral allergy syndrome -- which is often mistaken as a citrus allergy. In this situation, the immune system reacts to the proteins and pollen found in raw oranges.
Check Your Symptoms
An allergic reaction to citrus fruit can occur within a few minutes after eating or touching the fruit. It can sometimes take up to two hours for symptoms to develop, however. Allergic reaction symptoms can include itching or redness around the nose, mouth or eyes; swelling of the tongue or lips; a hoarse voice; abdominal discomfort, diarrhea; nausea; light-headedness; difficulty swallowing; stomach cramps; vomiting and nasal congestion.
Citrus Allergy Fixes
See a doctor if you experience an allergic reaction to citrus fruits. Your doctor can perform a skin prick allergy test to provide a definitive diagnosis. With your doctor’s approval, take an over-the-counter antihistamine to help relieve swelling, itching and redness due to a citrus allergic reaction. Allergy relief skin creams can also soothe the affected areas and reduce topical symptoms. To prevent future allergic reactions, refrain from eating any type of citrus fruit.
Always read labels carefully. Citrus fruits can be hidden in a variety of products such as baked goods, teas, medicines, flavored drinks, beauty products and cereals. In addition, citrus fruit peels and extracts -- not just the fruit themselves -- can trigger allergic reactions. If you must avoid citrus fruits, be sure to get vitamin C from other fruits and vegetables such as cantaloupe, red pepper, spinach, blueberries, mango and broccoli. Call an ambulance if you experience wheezing or breathing difficulty after eating citrus fruits. These symptoms could be signs of a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Food Allergy
- Fisher-Price: Is Baby Allergic to Citrus Fruit?
- Allergy UK: Allergy to Fruit and Vegetables
- Sydney Children's Hospital: Fruit and Vegetable Allergy
- Food Allergy Research & Education: About Food Allergies
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: Oral Allergy Syndrome