Can You Be Allergic to Cucumbers but Not Pickles? What To Know | MyFoodAllergyTeam

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Can You Be Allergic to Cucumbers but Not Pickles? What To Know

Medically reviewed by Lisa Booth, RDN
Written by Emily Brown
Posted on May 20, 2024

If pickles are just pickled cucumbers, how can you have an allergic reaction to cucumbers but not pickles? Although it may seem contradictory, it’s possible to have a cucumber allergy but not have a problem with pickles. The difference is that raw cucumbers, but not pickles, contain a protein that may trigger an allergic reaction.

People who have an allergic reaction to cucumbers may be allergic to certain other foods and substances. A cucumber allergy may also show up only during certain seasons. Learn more about what might trigger a reaction and what to do if you have a cucumber allergy.

Oral Allergy Syndrome May Be Behind a Cucumber Allergy

If you experience an allergic reaction to cucumbers, you may have oral allergy syndrome (OAS). Also known as pollen-food allergy syndrome, OAS is a type of food allergy.

OAS is caused by allergens found in both pollen and raw vegetables, fruits, and some nuts. Just as the immune system may trigger an allergic reaction to pollen in the air, it may trigger an allergic reaction to similar proteins found in food. In fact, up to 70 percent of people with a pollen allergy have OAS.

However, a raw fruit or vegetable that would normally cause an allergic reaction might not do so when cooked or processed. This is because cooking or processing changes the food’s proteins, so they’re no longer recognized by the immune system and don’t trigger an allergic reaction. You may be able to eat cooked and processed fruits and vegetables just fine, but raw varieties may cause adverse reactions.

Cucumbers vs. Pickles

Oral allergy syndrome may explain why you have an allergic reaction to cucumbers but not pickles. When cucumbers are pickled, they’re submerged in a saltwater brine or vinegar, which may change the allergy-causing proteins so that the immune system doesn’t recognize them.

Cucumber Allergy Symptoms Are Usually Mild

People allergic to ragweed pollen — the pollen that causes hay fever — may experience OAS symptoms with cucumber. This is because the pollen reacts with the proteins in cucumber. In this way, the allergic reaction is not due to a true cucumber allergy but, rather, a reaction to the proteins in the pollen. OAS symptoms are more likely to show up during the season when more pollen is found. For ragweed pollen, this is late summer and fall.

Common symptoms of OAS include sensations in areas touched by the food, such as burning, itching, and tingling in the mouth. Less common symptoms include swelling of the mouth, tongue, or lips and tightness in the throat.

OAS symptoms can be unnerving, but the generally mild symptoms usually go away in a few seconds or minutes. More severe reactions may occur, such as anaphylaxis, which causes symptoms including difficulty breathing and low blood pressure. However, this potentially life-threatening reaction is very rare.

Cucumber Allergy May Be Linked to Other Allergies

People with a latex allergy may also have a cucumber allergy because latex and cucumbers have similar proteins. Other foods that contain these proteins include:

  • Papaya
  • Kiwifruit
  • Chestnuts
  • Bananas

Those foods cause allergic reactions in 30 percent to 50 percent of people with a latex allergy.

Avoiding Cucumber May Be Best

If you have questions about whether you have a cucumber allergy, talk to your health care provider or allergist. They may do allergy testing to confirm that you should avoid eating raw cucumber and to see if your allergy is related to something else, like a pollen allergy. If your cucumber allergy isn’t related to a latex allergy or oral allergy syndrome, they may recommend carrying food allergy medications, such as an epinephrine auto-injector.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyFoodAllergyTeam is the social network for people with food allergies and their loved ones. On MyFoodAllergyTeam, more than 40,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with food allergies.

Do you have an allergic reaction to cucumbers but not pickles? Do you also have a pollen or fruit allergy? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on May 20, 2024
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Lisa Booth, RDN studied foods and nutrition at San Diego State University, in California and obtained a registered dietitian nutritionist license in 2008. Learn more about her here.
Emily Brown is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in health communication and public health. Learn more about her here.

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