What Is Cross Reactivity Allergy

  • Priyanka bains  Master of Science - MS, Biotechnology, Coventry University
  • Samreen Noman  Master's degree, Biomedical Sciences, General, Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences, Germany


Allergies have become more common in recent years, impacting millions of individuals around the world. Cross-reactivity, a phenomenon in which the immune system reacts to allergens that are structurally identical to the original trigger, is an intriguing element of allergies. In this detailed study, we will delve into the complex realm of cross-reactivity allergies, investigating their sources, mechanisms, common examples, diagnosis, management, and lifestyle suggestions.1


Before getting into cross-reactivity, it's critical to understand the fundamentals of allergies. Allergies are aberrant immunological responses to normally innocuous substances. Allergens are compounds that can be found in a variety of forms, including pollen, dust mites, pet dander, foods, and others. Allergic reactions cause sneezing, itching, swelling, hives, and even life-threatening anaphylaxis.1

Allergy cross-reactivity

Cross-reactivity definition

Cross-reactivity occurs when the immune system reacts to allergens that have structural similarities to the initial allergen. When exposed to seemingly unrelated compounds, this can result in unanticipated allergic reactions.2

The process of cross-reactivity

The immune system's failure to discriminate between allergens with similar protein structures causes cross-reactivity. When the immune system comes into contact with a structurally identical allergen, it confuses it for the original trigger, resulting in an allergic reaction.

Why do some allergens cause cross-reactivity?

When allergens share common proteins or epitopes, cross-reactivity is more likely. These common components might cause the immune system to become confused, causing it to react to various allergens.

Exemplifications of Cross-Reactive Allergens

  • Fruits and tree nuts: Due to shared proteins, people allergic to tree nuts may have cross-reactivity with specific fruits.
  • Due to structural similarities, latex allergies can cross-react with foods such as bananas, avocados, and kiwi.2

Cross-reactivity mechanisms

Immune system reaction

IgE antibodies are produced by the immune system in reaction to allergens. These antibodies incorrectly bind to identical proteins in various allergens, causing allergic reactions.

The function of IgE antibodies

IgE antibodies are critical components of the allergic reaction. They bind to mast cells and basophils, causing histamine and other chemicals to be released, resulting in allergic symptoms.2

Molecular resemblance and mimicry

When allergens share molecular similarities or imitate each other's proteins, cross-reactivity occurs. This confuses the immune system and can result in cross-allergies.

The most common cross-reactive allergies

Pollen-food allergy (oral allergy syndrome)

  • After swallowing certain raw fruits, vegetables, or nuts, symptoms include itching and swelling of the mouth and throat
  • This is more common in people who are allergic to pollen
  • Pollen-food syndrome has a unique twist in that certain fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts have proteins that are structurally identical to pollen proteins. These common proteins can be found in these foods' skin, pulp, or peel3
  • Because the proteins in pollen and those in specific meals have structural similarities, the immune system can sometimes cross-react. This means that if you have a pollen allergy, your immune system may mistake proteins in some meals for pollen3
  • Symptoms: When cross-reactivity occurs, the immune system's response can cause symptoms such as itching, swelling, and tingling of the mouth, lips, tongue, and throat shortly after consuming these foods in their raw or minimally processed form. These symptoms are limited to the oral cavity and do not usually lead to more severe allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis3

Latex-fruit syndrome 

  • Fruits such as bananas, avocados, and chestnuts can cause allergic responses in people who are allergic to latex.
  • Healthcare workers and those who are frequently exposed to latex are at a higher risk.
  • The common proteins between latex and particular fruits are the key to understanding Latex-Fruit Syndrome. Some fruits, such as bananas, avocados, and chestnuts, have proteins that are structurally similar to latex proteins. These common proteins can be found in the skin or pulp of the fruit.
  • Due to the similarities between the proteins in latex and those in these fruits, individuals with latex allergies may experience cross-reactivity when consuming these fruits. As a result, allergic responses similar to those seen with latex exposure may occur.4

Birch and related cross-reactive foods

  • The common proteins between birch pollen and specific meals hold the key to understanding this cross-reactivity. Some foods, such as apples, carrots, and hazelnuts, include proteins that are structurally similar to birch pollen proteins. These common proteins can be present in many regions of these foods, including as the skin, pulp, or peel.
  • Cross-Reactivity: Because the proteins in birch pollen and those in these foods have structural similarities, individuals with birch pollen allergies may experience cross-reactivity when consuming these foods. This cross-reactivity can result in allergy symptoms similar to birch pollen exposure.4

In summary, cross-reactivity between birch pollen and foods such as apples, carrots, and hazelnuts occurs because these allergenic sources share proteins. Individuals who are allergic to birch pollen may have localised allergy reactions when consuming these items in their raw or little-processed forms. Understanding this cross-reactivity is critical for regulating the diet of those who are allergic to birch pollen and avoiding discomfort.

Cross-reactive allergy diagnosis

Testing for allergies

Testing for allergies, understanding the significance of a thorough medical history, and identifying trigger allergens are all critical aspects in diagnosing and managing cross-reactivity allergies. Let's take a closer look at each of these points:

 Allergy screening

Skin tests, such as skin prick tests or patch testing, are routinely used to diagnose allergies. A minute amount of allergen extract is administered to the skin during a skin prick test, generally on the forearm or back. If you are allergic to the chemical, a little raised bump or a red, itchy patch will appear at the test location. This reaction aids in determining which allergen is causing your discomfort.

Blood Tests: certain IgE blood tests, for example, evaluate the levels of IgE antibodies produced by your immune system in response to certain allergens. High IgE antibody levels for a certain allergen suggest an allergy to that substance. Blood tests are especially beneficial when skin testing is impractical or produces inconclusive results.5

Identifying Cross-Reactive Allergens: It is critical for effective management to identify the specific allergen responsible for cross-reactive allergies. Once the allergy has been discovered through testing, healthcare experts can advise on avoidance tactics, potential therapies, and emergency response plans.

The importance of a comprehensive medical history

It is critical to share information on previous allergic reactions, no matter how minor they may have appeared. This information assists healthcare specialists in understanding the spectrum of symptoms you've had, as well as their frequency and severity. Mild reactions can be useful in discovering potential cross-reactivity patterns.5

Determining trigger Allergens

Allergy tests and a medical history can assist in determining which allergens are causing cross-reactive reactions. Allergy testing, including skin and blood tests, are critical tools for detecting which allergens are producing cross-reactive reactions.5 These tests assist in identifying the precise proteins or chemicals that cause allergic reactions in your body.

Cross-Reactivity Patterns: It is critical to understand cross-reactivity patterns. An allergy test, for example, can confirm the cross-reactivity of your symptoms if you have a birch pollen allergy and experience oral itching after eating apples or hazelnuts. This understanding guides dietary changes and safeguards.

Managing cross-reactive allergies 

Avoidance techniques

  • The basic strategy is to avoid triggering allergens
  • Cooked or processed versions of cross-reactive foods are frequently tolerated better

Treatment alternatives

  • Antihistamines can help with minor symptoms.
  • For severe responses, epinephrine is required.
  • Allergen immunotherapy may gradually diminish sensitivity.

Emergency response plans

Individuals with severe allergies should have a strategy in place in case of an emergency.

Living with cross-reactive allergies 

Nutritional considerations

  • People who have cross-reactive allergies may need to change their diets to avoid trigger foods
  • Dietetic consultation may be advantageous

Interaction with healthcare professionals

Communication with allergists on a regular basis is essential for optimal management.

Assistance and resources

Allergy support groups and online forums can provide useful information as well as emotional support.


Finally, cross-reactivity allergies add another degree of complication to the already complex realm of allergies. Individuals affected by these allergies must understand the causes, mechanisms, and management techniques. Knowledgeable and proactive people with cross-reactive allergies can live healthier and more pleasant lives. Seek medical counsel and support if you feel you have cross-reactive allergies to manage your condition effectively.


This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Priyanka Bains

Master of Science - MS, Biotechnology, Coventry University

Her commitment to continuous learning and mentorship is evident in her efforts to inspire and guide students, fostering her academic and career growth.

She is a highly dedicated and accomplished professional with a diverse background in biotechnology research, laboratory management, and education. She has conducted groundbreaking research on the antimicrobial properties of canine adipose tissue-derived mesenchymal cells, focusing on their efficacy against drug-resistant bacterial infections, particularly Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

With a strong foundation in research, laboratory techniques, and teaching methodologies, Priyanka bains is not only a developing biotechnologist but also a dedicated educator who strives to make a meaningful impact in the fields of biotechnology and science education.

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