You could have 'pollen food syndrome'. It's annoying but there’s no need to panic. - dermatologist and nutritionist Dr Thivi Maruthappu is here to help

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It’s one of those odd little mysteries in life about which you might be tempted to consult Dr Google – why do certain foods make my mouth itch? Strawberries and kiwis seem to be common culprits here. Well, no need to ask Dr Google (who is, of course, notoriously unreliable) as we have a real doctor to hand – and she definitely knows what she’s talking about.

Meet Dr Thivi Maruthappu, the UK’s only dual-qualified dermatologist and nutritionist. Her niche specialism means she has an interesting take on the connections between what we eat and the health of our skin, and the growing body of research around this topic.

A few years back, Dr Thivi found that patients in her London dermatology clinic would often ask about how their diet might affect their skin. She didn’t have the answers, as derms don’t tend to be trained to approach skin in a holistic way. So Thivi decided to take a course in nutrition science at the Stanford School of Medicine, and what she learned became the basis of her new book, SkinFood: Your 4-Step Solution To Healthy, Happy Skin (Piatkus, £11.99).

“By understanding the interplay between skin and health, it became clear to me that the two are intimately connected,” she says. “I quickly realised that if nutrition acts as the foundation for our overall health, then it also needs to form the first step of any approach to healthy skin.”

The book covers eating for skin health (we’ll be sharing some of her delicious, skin-boosting recipes in the coming weeks), the connection between our mind and our skin (stress, as we all know, can be written all over our face), skincare routines and medical treatments. Eczema, food allergies and intolerances are included in the mix, so we grabbed Dr Thivi for five minutes to get the lowdown on that weird itchy mouth thing – or, to give it its official title, pollen food syndrome.

Over to you, Dr Thivi.

What is PFS or Pollen food syndrome?

“If you have hay fever and pollen allergy, you might have noticed itching, tingling or swelling in your mouth or throat when you eat certain raw fruits, vegetables or nuts. This reaction is typical of pollen food syndrome. In this type of reaction our body mistakes proteins in certain foods for pollen-triggering symptoms. I am personally familiar with this type of reaction as a hay fever sufferer myself, and I also notice my lips tingling whenever I eat kiwis and peaches. Pollen food syndrome affects around two per cent of the UK population"

What foods can cause PFS?

"Some of the most common foods that cause PFS are apples (raw), strawberries, kiwi fruit, Brazil nuts, almonds and walnuts. Other foods that might pose a problem include pears, peaches, apricots, melon, peanuts, carrots, cherries, nectarines, plums, oranges, celery and tomatoes."

Should you seek medical help for PFS?

"It is very easy to mistake PFS for a food allergy, but the key thing to remember is that it doesn’t usually lead to life-threatening reactions. Most cases are mild, but there are rare instances where it can become more concerning – if you’re worried, make sure to speak to your doctor."

Should I stop eating a food if it triggers PFS?

"If you’ve experienced a reaction to one of the foods listed above, don’t feel that this means you need to cut out all of them. You should only consider removing something from your diet if you experience an uncomfortable reaction after eating that specific food. If you find that you’re reacting to something that you love and don’t want to stop eating it, you can try cooking (just a minute in the microwave is enough) or peeling the fruit or vegetable to the intensity of the reaction; for example, I can eat cooked peaches without any issues, so test whether this works for you. An antihistamine tablet and drinking plenty of water also helps."

How long does PFS last?

"Usually the symptoms of pollen food syndrome are short-lived, ranging around half an hour or so but in some cases can last longer.  Over time, it is possible for symptoms of pollen food allergy to diminish, alongside hayfever symptoms."

Extract from Skin Food (Piatkus, £11.99) by Dr Thivi Maruthappu is out now