Can Food Make Your Seasonal Allergies Worse? | Nutrition with Ginger

I had “hay fever” for most of my life. My nose got stuffy in the spring and remained that way through the fall. I took decongestants to manage, but once or twice a year I went to the doctor because a sinus infection had set in. This was normal though, because almost everyone in my southern town had “the sinus”!

Then almost nine years ago I discovered I was sensitive to gluten grains. I was not surprised that gluten elimination helped clear up my intestinal problems. The unexpected surprise was that after I eliminated them, my seasonal allergies disappeared! I don’t have an IgE allergy to wheat, but I do have IgE allergies to several types of grasses and weeds.

What happened and why did my allergy symptoms disappear?

It is a concept called cross-reactivity or concomitant foods. If you have IgE allergies and a high exposure to those environmental allergens, you can become reactive to certain foods, or the reactions to the foods may become stronger. Certain foods have been shown over time to be cross-reactive with various inhalants (grass, weed, and tree pollens, mold, dust-mites, etc.) When you eat those foods and the inhalant is around, your reaction will be worse or you will have additional allergic reactions.

Usually you have to be eating a food to test as sensitive to it, but because of cross-reactivity, an IgG food sensitivity test can pick up a potential problem food even if you are not eating it. For example, my daughter took a food sensitivity test. The test did not indicate many strong reactions, but she did show a three-star (highest level) reaction to oysters. Now an oyster, or any other shellfish for that matter, has never crossed this girl’s lips. She is allergic to dust mites, however. Any shellfish species can be cross-reactive to dust mites because they are similar animals. So now she knows probably should not eat oysters (although for her that is not a problem).

How could this affect me?

If you have specific environmental allergies, then learn which foods have been shown to be potentially cross-reactive for each allergen. Up to 80 percent of people who are allergic to birch pollen have food allergies also, due to cross-reactivity. The foods that most often cross-react with birch are apple, carrot, celery, pear, tomato, cherry, tree nuts and soy. All legumes (beans, peas, soybeans) and grains have been shown to cross-react with grasses. You can find a list of a number of the environmental allergens and the foods which can make them worse at the references listed at the end of this article.

In most cases, you won’t react to all of the foods that are concomitant for a specific pollen, so you will need to test foods individually. For example, I can eat the legumes black beans and chickpeas, as well as the grains oats and rice without allergic symptoms, but have to avoid soy and corn, in addition to wheat, barley and rye.

When should I be most concerned about pollen?

Pollen counts vary by season, with tree pollen being highest in spring, grasses in summer, and certain weeds in the fall. Since Aiken is relatively hot and humid, mold can be a problem year-round, but can get especially high in the fall. You can find a current local pollen forecast on the website People who have strong allergies should check this website. When the pollen count for your allergy is forecast to be high, then reduce or eliminate your cross-reactive foods for that time period.

Cross-reactivity between foods

Certain food allergies or sensitivities can also cause cross-reactive responses to other foods. Dairy, corn, soy, yeast and oats have all been shown to be cross-reactive to the gluten grains wheat, barley and rye. If you are allergic to one type of tree nut or one type of fish, you may also be allergic or sensitive to other tree nuts or fish. This food cross-reactivity is not universal, so you should work with an expert health care practitioner to help you identify your specific problem foods.

If you have environmental or food allergies and are not feeling progressively better, make sure to investigate the possible concomitant or cross-reactive foods for your particular allergies.


Ginger Hudock is a holistic nutrition consultant in Aiken, SC. Her business, Nutrition with Ginger,
helps clients discover the power of personalized, whole foods nutrition to prevent and heal from many chronic health concerns, especially food allergies and sensitivities. She is a graduate of the Nutrition Con- sultant Program at Hawthorn University and is also a Certi ed Gluten Practitioner. To sign up for nutrition consultation sessions or her newsletter and blog where she gives more nutrition news and recipes, visit Ginger’s website at, or call 803-640-4381.