7 Foods That Can Make Your Allergies Worse

Updated: May 18, 2020

Wine, spicy wings, and other surprising things that you may want to cut back on during allergy season.

Can your diet amp up your allergies?

When there’s already a pollen storm out there and you’re one of the 50 million Americans suffering from allergies each year, the last thing you want to do is make your symptoms worse. But if you eat or drink certain things, you can inadvertently add to your misery, says Tania Elliott, MD, a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. These are some common offenders you may want to take off your plate when your seasonal allergies are in full swing.

Pouring red wine.
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Wine is high in histamines, one of the chemicals the body pumps out when you have allergies. “During allergy season, your body produces chemicals that trigger an allergic response, the most predominant one being histamine, and it’s largely responsible for itching, redness, swelling, and congestion,” explains Dr. Elliott. “Eating histamine-containing foods in high quantities can increase the levels of histamine circulating in your body, and contribute to a symptom flare.” Wine also packs other substances that can make you stuffed up and miserable. LTP, a protein in the skin of grapes, can trigger congestion, notes Dr. Elliott, as can byproducts of bacteria, yeast, and sulfites in some wines. Take it slow with the pinot, and avoid the 30 worst tips allergy doctors have ever heard.

assortment of gourmet artisanal cheeses on slate cheese tray
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Aged cheese

If you’ve ever felt stuffed up or had a runny nose after eating aged cheeses like Parmesan, Gouda, and Manchego, it’s not your imagination. One study published by Iowa State University found that certain microbes found in aged cheese can produce allergy-like reactions. Blame histamines in the cheese, not dairy, says Dr. Elliott: “There is no evidence to suggest that dairy makes your phlegm or mucous thicker.” Check out these 30 things your allergist wishes you knew.

Handful of strawberries
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Fresh fruits

Fruit is good for you, but many varieties, including berries, have a protein in their skin that is similar to pollen. “If you are known to be allergic to birch or alder pollen avoid berries, particularly strawberries which are among the most widely consumed fruit,” says Shawn Nasseri, MD, ENT-otolaryngologist in Beverly Hills, California. “In those with berry allergies, the body sees the fresh fruit as a toxin releasing histamines to fight it commonly causing symptoms such as swelling, rashes, and gastrointestinal issues.” Additional symptoms are runny rose and scratchy throat which can exacerbate similar seasonal allergy symptoms. Mild symptoms, he notes, can be treated with antihistamines. Make sure you know these 13 dangerous food allergy myths you shouldn’t believe.

cocktails on a bar

Cocktails of any kind

Drinking any alcohol can cause stuffiness, though this isn’t an allergy. “Alcohol causes dilation of the blood vessels, which can contribute to flushed skin and congestion,” Dr. Elliott says. When you’re having an allergy flare-up, however, the last thing you need is something that adds to that itchy-stuffy feeling. Incidentally, drinking booze can also make an allergic reaction to food more severe, which is yet another reason to drink in moderation. Are you drinking too much? These 7 signs point to yes. 

Spicy food. Red and green hot peppers in oil
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Spicy foods

Ever noticed that your nose gets runny after you eat four-alarm chili? “Spicy foods can help clear out the sinuses and the nasal passages and thin out mucus, which is a good thing,” says Dr. Elliott. But if your symptoms are dramatic and annoying, there may be another issue. “There is a syndrome called gustatory rhinitis, in which people actually develop allergic irritation from spicy foods and end up with sneezing or a runny nose when exposed to spicy foods,” Dr. Elliott explains. If that’s the case, your best bet is swearing off the hot stuff. Check out these 20 other bizarre things you probably didn’t realize you could be allergic to.

woman drinking tea
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Herbal tea

You know what’s in that fragrant tea blend? Plants and flowers that can make you sneeze. “Many people confuse the terms ‘all natural’ and ‘allergy-free,'” points out Dr. Elliott. “Herbal teas are made from plants. Trees and grasses (that cause hay fever) are plants too. So, if you are having an herbal tea, it is possible that the tea leaves can cross-react with plant pollen.” Chamomile and thyme, for example, cross-react with mugwort pollen, which is the prominent weed pollen produced in the summer. Echinacea can also trigger a reaction. If your cup of tea brings on symptoms, switch to a different variety. (Here are 12 surprising health benefits of black tea.)

Grilled beef
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Red meat

Alpha-gal allergy is a severe, sudden allergy to red meat that is believed to be transmitted by ticks and other insects. Experts believe that ticks can pick up a sugar molecule called alpha-gal from its prey, and then transfer it to its next victim. If that’s you, your body can react to alpha-gal and you end up with an allergy to red meat. While the typical food allergy reaction happens within minutes to a few hours, alpha-gal reactions occur several hours or even half a day later, says Dr. Elliott. This allergy is on the rise. It’s been reported not only in the United States but in Europe and Australia. One study, published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, found that alpha-gal may be to blame for a large percentage of previously unexplained anaphylactic reactions. If you notice any symptoms like hives, nausea, or difficulty breathing after eating meat (beef, pork, lamb), make sure to see an allergist and carry an epinephrine device. Don’t miss these 11 other things that can make your allergies worse.