The Pumpkin is deeply rooted in American culture. Its becomes more prevalent during the holiday seasons where it is included in many holiday foods including breads, muffins and pies. It is a symbol of Halloween with the ever-present pumpkin carvings and jack-o’-lanterns.
The Pumpkin is part of the gourd family which includes the squash, zucchini, cucumber and many others. Its protein makeup has shown to have cross reactivity with certain pollens including ragweed. Could this potentially result in an allergic response?
Yes…..the incidence of true pumpkin allergy is rare but anaphylaxis and local contact reactions can occur. I had a mom a few years back who presented with 2 bouts of hand swelling after carving pumpkins with her children. One of the bouts was severe enough to require an oral steroid. Her workup included a positive skin and blood test to pumpkin. Other skin tests revealed reactivity’s to ragweed, select trees and dust mite.
During that same timeframe, this Mom had ingested pumpkin muffins twice without issue. Why would she react to touching of the pumpkin and not from ingestion??
It is very likely that the physical stimuli of the carving with the prolonged exposure to the pumpkin protein lead to resulting local swellings of the hands. The ingestion of the pumpkin muffin, however, did not evoke a reaction due to the changing of the pumpkin protein with the cooking process.
In this case, I instructed Mom to utilize gloves when carving pumpkins in the future. I also stated that ingestion of pumpkin containing foods most likely would be a non-issue but to exercise caution in the future.
As you can see food allergies can be tricky. Often it takes a good history, appropriate testing, and an occasional oral challenge to appropriately define. If there are any food allergy issues that we can help with . . . give our office a call.