An itchy sensation in your gums is generally a sign of a mild allergic reaction. Due to your body's nonspecific immune response to some allergens, itchy gums can arise from seasonal, pet, medication, food or contact allergies. Although oral contact with an allergen is not necessary, eating raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, spices and legumes is a common cause. To prevent or reduce the severity of your itchy gums, you should avoid potential allergens, use antihistamines and cook raw foods before eating them.
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Otherwise known as eosinophil granulocytes, eosinophils are white blood cells that your body releases to fight allergies, infections and asthma. Whether or not they come into contact with an allergen, your gums sometimes accumulate eosinophils in response to an allergen. New York-based dentist Dr. Lawrence Spindel says that this accumulation of eosinophils becomes more common during allergy season, though it also commonly arises from allergies to prescription medications. According to Dr. Spindel, this increase in eosinophils generally results in irritation of your gums, potentially resulting in redness and itchiness.
According to Dr. Spindel, another potential culprit for itchy gums is an increase in your body's production of histamines. As with eosinophils, your immune system triggers the release of these chemicals in response to germs, bacteria or allergens. In the 2008 edition of their book "Human Biology," Drs. Cecie Starr and Beverly McMillan state that contact between some free nerve endings and histamines leads to an itchy sensation. Because various allergens trigger the release of histamines into your blood and throughout your body, contact between your gums and an allergen is not necessary to cause itchy gums.
Oral Allergy Syndrome
Although the general release of eosinophils and histamines potentially leads to itchy gums, persistent food-related itching often arises from oral allergy syndrome. This syndrome involves a response to any of a variety of raw foods, including many fruits, vegetables, seeds, spices and nuts. Eating these raw foods leads to itching, burning, tingling and swelling in your mouth, on your lips and in your throat. Due to the similarities between protein allergens in these foods and certain tree pollens, there is often a link between seasonal allergies and oral allergy syndrome.
Treatment and Prevention
Because a variety of allergens may lead to itchy gums, you should consult with your doctor for allergy testing to help determine the cause of your reaction. Once you know the source of your itchy gums, avoiding the allergen is the best way to prevent a reaction. Oral allergy syndrome, seasonal allergies and other histamine-related reactions respond to antihistamines, which are often sufficient to treat your itchy gums. Although the symptom is generally mild, itchy gums may be an early sign of a more severe allergic reaction. As a result, you should seek immediate medical attention if you experience breathing difficulties or a rapid escalation of allergic symptoms along with your itchy gums.
- "Allergy Frontiers: Classification and Pathomechanisms: Volume Two"; Ruby Pawankar, et al.; 2009
- Ask Dr. Spindel: What Does it Mean if I Have Itchy Gums?
- "Human Biology: Eighth Edition"; Cecie Starr and Beverly McMillan; 2008
- "Allergy Asthma Information Association Newsletter"; Oral Allergy Syndrome; Antony Ham Pong; June 2000