And allergies like this are becoming more common in adults. Here's what you need to know.

By Sara Coughlin
May 30, 2019 @ 2:15 pm
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

It’s always a bummer when an artist has to cancel a scheduled appearance, but it can be downright scary when they’re forced to do so for health reasons. Earlier this week, Ariana Grande announced via Instagram story that she “woke up incredibly sick” and, on her doctor’s orders, would have to postpone her Tampa and Orlando concerts. The singer apologized profusely to her fans, writing, “I’m so beyond devastated.”

The following day, Grande shared the cause of her illness in an Instagram post: tomatoes. She was put out of commission due to a severe allergic reaction in which her “throat pretty much closed.” Grande also noted that her Italian heritage (and, as USA Today reported, previously declared love of the food) made matters all the more devastating: “there is NOTHING MORE UNFAIR THAN AN ITALIAN WOMAN DEVELOPING AN ALLERGY TO TOMATOES IN HER MID TWENTIES.......”

According to Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist and immunologist with the Allergy & Asthma Network, this development isn’t just “unfair,” but it’s pretty uncommon, too. Generally, she sees far more allergies to foods such as peanuts, wheat, soy, milk, eggs, and shellfish. While research suggests that proteins found in tomatoes can trigger an allergic reaction, Dr. Parikh says that people with certain pollen allergies may have a reaction to some varieties of tomatoes, too. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, this condition, known as oral allergy syndrome or pollen-food syndrome, causes sufferers to react to allergens that appear in both pollen and raw fruits and vegetables. For some people, this syndrome doesn’t develop until adulthood.

In recent years, Dr. Parikh has observed a rise in tomato allergies among adults “due to many lifestyle and environmental factors such as living in cities [and] eating processed foods.” Beyond these factors, how, why, and when adults develop new allergies remains relatively unclear. But, earlier this year, a survey of over 40,000 adults found that 38% of them sought emergency care for an allergic reaction, leading the authors to believe that adult-onset allergies are, indeed, a mounting problem. However, more research needs to be done on the subject.

Where a mild reaction to tomatoes may result in a rash or itchy throat, a more severe case (which remain relatively rare) can include anaphylaxis, in which one’s airways constrict after contact with an allergen. Given Grande’s description of her symptoms — a “pretty much” closed up throat and the feeling of “swallowing a cactus” — it would appear that she suffered a fairly extreme reaction. In other words, it was good that she went straight to the doctor.

“The first line treatment with any food allergic reaction is epinephrine,” an injectable medication used in emergencies to treat anaphylaxis, Dr. Parikh explains, adding that continuing to rest up (and stay near a doctor) after initial treatment is key. “Patients may need additional medicines, depending how severe the reaction is, which is why it is important to be in monitored setting.”

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Grande stated in her Instagram post that she’s on her way to recovery and that she’ll make her triumphant return to Tampa and Orlando next November. But, as far as her future meals are concerned, she may have to say “thank u, next” to tomatoes and find a new favorite veggie — Dr. Parikh says the “mainstay” treatment for this allergy is, simply, to avoid tomatoes altogether.

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