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Scary Fig Reaction Could Be Harbinger of Deadly Fruit Allergies

A fig reaction could be linked to allergies to other fruit, such as kiwi fruit, papaya, avocado, banana or pineapple.
Scary Fig Reaction Could Be Harbinger of Deadly Fruit Allerg...
Fig fruit

Do you have allergies? We often think of “allergies” in terms of sniffles and sneezes, aka allergic rhinitis. But many people also have food allergies. These an be extremely serious, even deadly. Consequently, if you have reactions like hives or wheezing after eating a specific food, you must pay attention. We have received questions from readers about a fig reaction that includes tingling, rash or swelling.

Cross Reactivity Between Latex and Fruit:

Q. We planted a fig tree last year, so I have been eating a lot of fresh figs and fig jam. Yesterday, I was picking figs. On the way to work, my hands and the sides of my mouth felt prickly. I developed a rash where my skin came in contact with the milk-like sap from the fruit stems.

I am sensitive to latex. Could there be cross reactivity? I just scheduled an allergist appointment and am avoiding figs until then.

A. Wise move! People who are allergic to latex can also be sensitive to figs, papayas and kiwi fruit. The reaction can lead to numbness, tingling or swelling of the lips, mouth or tongue. A rash is also a red flag! By all means check with an allergist and stay away from the figs.

You may also want to avoid growing ornamental figs (Ficus benjamina) as house plants. Some people with allergies to kiwi fruit, papaya, avocado, banana or pineapple, as well as those who have suffered a fig reaction, are also sensitive to this plant (Clinical and Experimental Allergy, Aug. 2004).

Could a Fig Reaction Signal Allergy?

Q. I have fig trees in my back yard and they were especially fruitful this year. I love fresh figs, but lately I have been experiencing a scary reaction. My lips tingle and my tongue swells up. Could this be a fig allergy?

A. Food allergies can be serious. Those who are sensitive to nuts or shellfish may suffer life-threatening reactions to even the smallest exposure.

Fruit allergy is usually less serious, but if your tongue swells it could interfere with breathing. Numbness and tingling in the mouth or lips, itching and swelling are all red flags that shouldn’t be ignored.

But you may not have to give up figs altogether. Certain people only react to allergens in the skin of the fruit (International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, June 2003). Peeling the fruit sometimes solves the problem and cooking may destroy the protein responsible for the allergy.

Check with your doctor before experimenting, however, as he may want you to do this in his office or have an adrenaline injection on hand just in case things get out of hand.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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  • Hemmer W et al, "Sensitization to Ficus benjamina: relationship to natural rubber latex allergy and identification of foods implicated in the Ficus-fruit syndrome." Clinical and Experimental Allergy, Aug. 2004. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2004.02046.x
  • Antico A et al, "Oral allergy syndrome to fig." International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, June 2003. DOI: 10.1159/000070929
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