Of all the fruit staples in the average North American diet, the strawberry is the most likely to cause an allergic reaction, according to Dr. Janice Vickerstaff Joneja. Strawberry allergies occur in people of all ages, although young babies are at the highest risk of severe allergy because of their age and immature immune system.
Allergy vs. Intolerance
An allergy to strawberries--just like an allergy to any food--begins with your immune system. When you ingest, and in some cases simply smell or touch, a substance to which you are allergic, your body starts to attack it using something called histamines. An intolerance, or sensitivity, to strawberries produces similar physical symptoms, but has a different source. While strawberry allergies involve the immune system, a strawberry intolerance involves only the digestive system with no immune response involved.
Strawberry Allergy Symptoms
The symptoms of a strawberry allergy are similar in babies, children and adults. The overactive immune response to the strawberries leads to the release of more histamines than the body can handle. In especially sensitive individuals, including babies with immature immune systems due to their young age, the first signs of the allergy appear at the point of contact with the allergen--for example, hives on the skin where the baby touched the strawberry, tingling in the mouth or swelling of the tongue, lips, face or throat. The next layer of symptoms appears in the digestive system, producing signs like nausea, stomach cramping, diarrhea and vomiting. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction; it happens when the allergen causes breathing difficulties and a sharp drop in blood pressure.
Avoiding Strawberry Allergies
Because strawberries are a known allergen, parents should avoid giving them to their children until the child reaches 6 to 12 months of age. Some commercial baby foods include strawberries in their ingredient list, because it is believed that cooking the fruit at high temperatures negates the allergic affect of the specific protein in strawberries. Since allergies are often genetic, passed down from parent to child, delay the introduction of strawberries to your child's diet if one of the child's parents or siblings has a strawberry allergy. Also avoid exposure to other substances that are linked to strawberry allergies, including birch pollen; commonly, a baby who is allergic to one will be allergic to the other as well.
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If your baby has an allergic reaction to strawberries--even something that appears minor, like skin irritation--contact your doctor immediately. Allergies often grow worse over time; each time the body is exposed to the allergen, it ramps up its immune response, making the symptoms increase in severity with every exposure. The doctor may perform a skin test-- either a prick test or an intradermal skin test--to see if the presence of the allergen produces an allergic reaction on the skin. The most common type of blood test for allergies looks for the presence of antibodies to a specific allergen. For severe cases, the pediatrician may refer the patient to an allergy specialist.
Elizabeth Falwell has been writing for the TV news industry since 2005. Her work has appeared on WXII 12 News, WMGT 41 News, NewParent.com and multiple parenting blogs. A graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University, Falwell holds a Master of Science in broadcast journalism.