The People's Perspective on Medicine

Scary Fig Reaction Could Be Harbinger of Deadly Fruit Allergies

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. Some people, especially those who are allergic to latex or tree and grass pollens may also react to kiwi fruit, figs, papaya, passion fruit, bananas, peaches and nectarines, to name just a few.

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. 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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We planted a fig tree last year. I have been eating a lot of fresh figs and fig jam. Yesterday, I was picking figs after lunch. On the way to work, my hands and the sides of my mouth felt prickly and developed a rash–the skin that came in contact with the milk sap from the fruit stems. Returned home for some Benadryl and a Benadryl-induced nap.

I am sensitive to laytex. Supposedly figs and other fruits contain laytex compounds. I have been them daily in addition to the figs.

Scheduled an allergist appointment. Avoiding laytex and suspect fruits until then.

I have just eaten 2 fresh figs, and had a reaction , my tongue is tingling and feels funny like a burn would feel, the first fig was fine and I had no reaction, I noticed on the second fig I broke off the stem and a white milk like substance was running out of it , this was when I had the reaction, so this is why I checked it out, I have to agree with the assumption that it’s the milk like substance that caused the reaction.

There’s a video about figs having a type of pollinating wasps in them. Raises the question, what if wasps cause reactions for people allergic to bees, pollen, or insects?

The potential reason a person may have an allergy to figs is because the way figs are pollinated is to have a female wasp crawl through a small hole in the fig carrying the male fig pollen.

When the female wasp enters the small hole in the fig, the wings are detached. The wasp is the ultimately absorbed by the fig.

My thought is that maybe the allergy is from the absorbed wasp vs the fig itself…although kind of a catch 22 as in order to pollinate the fruit, the wasp has to be absorbed into the fruit. Just sayin

A guy at work offered me figs he grew at home. First time for me to eat figs. Ate three and then departed for home. 10 min. later, while driving home, experienced bad stomach pain followed by profuse sweating, tingling in head and hands, nausea, and then almost passed out while stopped at a traffic light. Actually put the car in park incase I actually passed out. Breathed into a large cup to thwart hyperventilation in case that was the cause for feeling faint. Next step, chills from AC on soaked clothes. Too ill to drive, but pressed on and barely made it 20 min. home. Not sure if reaction to fig, sugar related (didn’t seemed very sweet), or what. Limped into house, soaking wet, and fell asleep. Any ideas?

THE SKIN AND ‘MILK’ OF THE TREE is the guilty part. She should remove skin completely. She probably is also allergic to Papaya and other fruits with ‘milk savia’

Hi having been to market and bought some fresh figs which I peeled before tasted and got a itchy mouth, lips and throat. 2nd time I’ve tried so now another food on the list of banned foods. I have a nuts and soya allergies plus some chemicals. I did not realise that figs were going to be a problem I’d heard of kiwi fruit, guess the lesson we need out there there is checkout everything before you eat. Good luck thanks for info

I used to eat fresh pineapple and kiwi fruit with gusto, but some years ago I noticed my throat would begin to itch after a bite or two of either fruit. Something about that itch told me I’d better stop eating those fruits. I assume I had developed an allergy to both of them. Even peeling the kiwi didn’t help. I miss them, but I’d rather not find out what could happen if I overindulged in them.

One thing about figs that the writer should check out. The fig stems when broken off sometimes give off a white milky looking liquid, more so when not ripe. And this liquid will cause a burning sensation if it gets onto your skin. I have fig trees for many years and I am careful to wash it off. Perhaps some of this milky liquid is getting on the figs that he was eating. If this is the case then it could be causing trouble even if it is not an allergy. Just check to see if this is the case or not.

I currently reside in Mexico. It is customary here to clean fruit with special liquids just for that purpose before eating it.
I do that but I also snitch a few cherries, blueberries, plums when cleaning. Probably not the wisest idea I have ever had.

I had the same reaction to dentures 8 months ago. Tongue swelling, lips (most of mouth where they touched) tingling. Dentist kept trying to adjust them. I went to an holistic dentist about a week ago for a second opinion. He picked up right away on allergy. He tested other material, found one I didn’t seem to respond to.
He’s working on finishing the dental work, we’re waiting for my mouth to settle down, then he’s making new dentures with the material I didn’t react to. The reaction was horrible!! I haven’t been able to eat solids in weeks. Hopefully I’ll have dentures I can wear in a few weeks. Also, doing homeopathic heavy metal detox for related amalgams.

Has anyone investigated if people who have natural food allergies are reacting to trees being sprayed with insecticides?…instead of the allergy being to the fruit itself?

Good point! I live in and grew up in a town we call Chemical Valley, where allergies are on the rise along with chemical releases. We live in a chemically induced dream state here, in our sulfur, arsenic, mercury cloud. And still blame it on the pollen! ha ha

I had the same reaction to watermelon a few years ago– esp so much that my doctor prescribed an epi-pen. I loved watermelon and would eat a lot of it during the season. When I stopped eating watermelon and waited a year I was able to eat it within ‘normal amounts’.

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