If you have an allergic reaction after eating dried fruit, it is most likely caused by mold or sulfites. Mold is present in many dried fruits, such as dates, figs, prunes and raisins. Sulfites are commonly used as a preservative in dried fruit, but you can develop a sensitivity to them. Although fruit allergies are relatively common, most people react only after eating or touching fresh, raw fruits, since the drying process alters the proteins.
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We are all exposed to mold every day, both in the air and in foods. If you're allergic to mold, too much exposure can cause symptoms such as wheezing, trouble breathing, a stuffy or runny nose, itchy watery eyes and skin rashes. Dried fruit is a common source of mold. Other foods and beverages likely to contain mold are mushrooms, cheese, vinegar, beer, wine, yeast and pickled foods.
Sulfites are often added to dried fruit as a preservative. The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, estimates that roughly 1 percent of people are sensitive to them. Sensitivity can develop at any time in life, and the causes are not known. Sulfites are banned in fruit and vegetables that are to be eaten raw but can be used in potatoes, shrimp, beer, wine and some medications. Symptoms often resemble those for asthma and can range from a mild wheezing to a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction, which requires immediate medical attention.
If you have abdominal pain, gas, bloating and diarrhea after eating dried fruit, you might have difficulty digesting fructose. This is a sugar found naturally in fruit and also used to sweeten many processed foods and drinks. Fructose malabsorption is not harmful but can cause discomfort. A few people have hereditary fructose intolerance, a rare but serious genetic disorder in which the body lacks the enzyme needed to break down fructose. This is usually diagnosed in young children and can cause liver and kidney problems if untreated.
Tests and Diagnosis
If you suspect you have an allergy or food intolerance, talk to your doctor. Be prepared to describe your symptoms and keep a food diary, noting any adverse reactions. You might be asked to try an elimination diet or to take a skin or blood test. In a skin test, your skin is pricked to allow a tiny amount of allergen to get below the surface. If you're allergic, a rash will develop. In a blood test, your blood is analyzed for the presence of antibodies, the body's response to an allergen. If you're asthmatic, your allergist might recommend a sulfite sensitivity test. You'll be given gradually increasing amounts over a 2- to 2.5-hour period and closely monitored for symptoms.
If you have a mold allergy, nasal corticosteroids, oral antihistamines and decongestants can relieve symptoms. Allergy shots might help if you also have mold-induced asthma. If you're sensitive to sulfites, an asthma bronchodilator can treat symptoms. If you're at risk for anaphylaxis, your doctor might prescribe an epinephrine injector, which you should carry with you at all times.
Of course, the best way to prevent a reaction is to avoid trigger foods. Keep your house mold free if you're allergic, and check all foods carefully for signs of mold. Check ingredient lists for foods that contain sulfites. If you have a fructose intolerance, a dietitian can advise you on eating a healthful diet.