Summertime means melon time for many families as they serve up hunks of cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon at family gatherings and picnics.
But one mom suspects that sweet cantaloupe might just have landed her 2-year-old son in the hospital, and now she wants other parents to be on the lookout for food allergies that may sneak up on their kids.
Writing for Good Housekeeping, Sarah Scott said she was recently spending time with her family at her parents’ lake house, about 45 minutes from the nearest hospital, when the incident occurred.
Her son, who was not named in the story, was eating cantaloupe for the first time when his face began to swell and he broke out in hives.
The family rushed the 2-year-old to a nearby doctor who gave him two injections of epinephrine, a hormone typically administered to those suffering anaphylactic shock.
They called emergency responders to the doctor’s office to have the boy rushed to the hospital. Scott said her son stopped breathing just as the paramedics arrived, but they were able to stabilize him and get him to the hospital.
Once there, Scott said, her son was given steroids and breathing treatments until the suspected allergic reaction subsided.
Scott recounted that she woke up the next morning with the realization that she was now an “EpiPen parent,” a reference to the auto-injection device that safely administers epinephrine to those suffering a severe allergic reaction.
Scott still isn’t sure what triggered her son’s allergic reaction, though she suspects it was the cantaloupe. She said he will undergo allergy testing as soon as the steroids from his hospital visit are out of his system.
An initial consultation with an allergist suggested her suspicion of the melon might be justified. She said the allergist informed her that cantaloupe has a cross-reactivity with ragweed and other grasses.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, or AAFA, that cross-reactivity is known as oral allergy syndrome. It occurs when the affected person’s immune system mistakes the proteins in certain foods for a pollen that the person is allergic to and triggers an allergic reaction. Symptoms of such a reaction include itching, hives and even anaphylactic shock.
A study cited by the organization showed that about 2 percent of patients with oral allergy syndrome have symptoms that progress to anaphylaxis. Such patients are often advised to consider carrying an epinephrine auto-injector.
Those with ragweed allergy might react to cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew and tomatoes. Other foods believed to be cross-reactive in ragweed allergy sufferers include bananas, zucchini and sunflower seeds, according to the AAFA.
The link between melons and ragweed made sense to Scott, who wrote that she noticed her son had had a runny nose and watery eyes since spring’s arrival.
Now she plans on becoming an advocate for her son’s suspected allergy.
“This is not the worst diagnosis, and it is manageable,” Scott wrote in closing. “My husband and I will teach (our son) to advocate for himself as he grows. That's certainly a great start.”