Food allergies are common among people. The most common food allergens include milk, eggs, fish, soybeans, and peanuts. However, not many of us are aware of banana allergies.
With this article, you will be able to understand how to identify if you are or someone you know is allergic to bananas.
What is an allergy?
Let’s begin with the basics. An allergy is the body’s reaction to an otherwise harmless substance such as pollen, dust, mold, latex and certain foods. Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe; symptoms include itchy red spots on the skin, rash, watery/red eyes, nasal congestion or runny nose, scratchy throat, dizziness and nausea. The condition should be considered a medical emergency if any of these symptoms become severe.
Becoming prone to an allergy requires exposure to a specific allergen, your body then responds by producing allergic (IgE) antibodies, which locate and dispose of the allergens from your system. This results in the secretion of a chemical called histamine that causes prominent symptoms of allergies to occur.
What is banana allergy?
Banana allergies are prevalent in about 0.1-1.2% of the population. Severe banana intolerance may present with mild and/or severe symptoms, depending on the cause of the allergy. In severe cases, the symptoms can also develop after touching the fruit or its peel.
It is a common belief that banana allergy is not caused solely by the fruit itself but by its constituent protein called chitinase. According to statistics, 45% of latex allergy sufferers are also allergic to bananas. This could be because of a certain amount of chitinase found in the sap of rubber trees.
Although it is extremely rare for a baby to have a strong allergic reaction to bananas, it is important to be cautious at all times. You should look out for symptoms of banana allergy in case your baby’s immune system is intolerant to the protein chitinase and provokes an external allergic reaction. While more than a quarter of children outgrow their allergies, anaphylaxis remains a great danger for babies and young children.
How do you know if you are allergic to bananas?
As explained earlier, you can get a banana allergy by eating the fruit or, in some cases, by even touching it. Young children who have nut allergies are likely to also be allergic to bananas and may react to eating or touching raw bananas. Though most children often tend to outgrow food allergies, it is strongly advised to see a physician or pediatrician if you have the slightest doubt that your child or any loved one might be suffering from banana allergy.
Types of allergy syndromes and symptoms
Since the banana allergy occurs in conjunction with an allergy to other foods, it is categorized into two types of oral allergy syndromes:
- Pollen food syndrome
This is more likely to occur in people who suffer from hay fever and are allergic to certain tree pollens. In this case, the proteins in that tree pollen share the same characteristics as those found in bananas. The similarity between these allergens causes people to react to bananas. This happens due to a process known as cross-reactivity. In other cases, people who are allergic to a certain protein will develop symptoms upon exposure to fruits or any substances that comprise this protein.
- Latex food syndrome
This type of oral allergy syndrome occurs in people who are allergic to natural rubber latex. In this case, bananas contain certain proteins that are also found in latex.
With both of these conditions, the symptoms are confined to the lips, mouth, tongue, throat, or gullet. This happens because the proteins causing the allergy are destroyed when the banana reaches the stomach.
Mild symptoms may include:
- Itching or swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat
- Runny nose
- Swollen, itchy, and red eyes
Although rare, those that develop sensitization to neither pollen nor natural rubber latex are at greater risk of showing severe symptoms of banana allergy. These symptoms are not just restricted to the mouth and skin. Instead, they extend to breathing difficulties and swift fluctuations in blood pressure, which may lead to loss of consciousness. These are life-threatening allergic symptoms called anaphylaxis. Doctors prescribe people, at the risk of anaphylaxis, one to two adrenaline auto-injector devices, which they should carry with them at all times.
Severe symptoms of banana allergy require immediate attention, and include:
- Shortness of breath
- Flushed skin
- Swollen tongue and throat, along with a hoarse voice
- Closing of the airways, which results in wheezing or difficulty in breathing
- Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Decreased blood pressure
- Dizziness or fainting
Risk factors for banana allergy
These factors increase the probability of you suffering from a certain allergy, which in this case is an allergy to bananas. A person is more likely to have a banana allergy if they have:
- A history of eczema or atopic dermatitis
- A family history of allergies, including pollen, plants, and foods, especially bananas
- A history of oral allergy syndrome with any foods
Managing banana allergy
In the case of banana allergy, it is in the patient’s best interest to avoid the food completely. It is ideal to avoid salads, raw healthy desserts, and smoothies, which contain bananas as an ingredient. Banana-flavored cosmetics or medications are also supposed to be avoided. If you are sensitive to bananas and latex, you should also avoid certain toys, pacifiers, or any other latex-based object, including balloons, gloves, condoms, and fitness equipment.
If you are allergic to bananas, you are also likely to experience oral reactions to other cross-reactive foods such as avocadoes, kiwi, carrots, celery, apples, chestnuts, potatoes, papaya, and melons. Additionally, people with banana allergies can react to plantain since it comes from the same botanical family.
In cases of mild allergies, you may consult your doctor if it is safe to eat a cooked banana since cooking it may deactivate the protein that causes the allergy. However, if your allergy is severe, it is advisable to avoid it completely and eat other fruits of a similar nutritional value. Here are some safe alternatives for those who are allergic to bananas.
- Cooked sweet potatoes and yams
- Pumpkin and squashes, either baked or in desserts and smoothies.
As inconvenient as banana allergies are, this fruit is easy to avoid. It is wrong to assume that banana allergy is harmless and would go away with time, for even a minor banana allergy can develop into a more severe one, causing severe reactions such as anaphylaxis.
Considering people who have a strong allergic reaction to bananas often also have other sensitivities, it is strongly advised to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and a comprehensive allergic profile so you know what foods and substances to avoid. This way, you can take care of yourself and stock up on other safe and nutritive alternatives.