House CallApr/May 2012 Issue

Ask the Doctor Q&A - Plant Allergy, Peanut Allergy, Cheese Allergy & More!

Medical experts answer your questions about allergies and sensitivities

Blooming Sensitivity

My husband loves to buy me flowering houseplants but I think they’re making me sick. Am I crazy?

Dr. Jain Absolutely not. Research suggests that indoor plants can pollinate and prompt allergic reactions, just like outdoor plants. Although not common, allergies to rubber plants, lilies and other flowering plants are reported in the medical literature. Additionally, indoor plants and the soil they’re potted in can harbor mold, which can trigger allergy symptoms, such as itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, nasal congestion and even breathing problems. Those who suffer from seasonal allergies may be particularly vulnerable. Given your reaction, you should limit the number of indoor plants in your home or avoid them altogether.

Tea for Two

My baby is allergic to peanuts. He’s on solid foods but I’m still nursing him. I notice he develops a rash whenever I drink herbal tea. I checked the ingredients. Is it possible he’s allergic to rooibos?

Dr. Leo Roobios tea is a popular herbal tea made with the leaves and stems of the Aspalathus linearis plant, a member of the legume family. Originally cultivated in South Africa, roobios contains antioxidants and offers health benefits.

I’ve seen several cases of reactions to this tea in children who are allergic to peanuts, chickpeas or other legumes. Several case studies reported in medical literature suggest that, although it is rare, some individuals with legume allergy may have a cross-reaction with this tea.

Currently, there’s no official test to ascertain this allergy. Your child’s allergist may consider administering a fresh extract test and a supervised oral challenge. I recommend that you stop drinking the tea and discuss this further with your child’s physician.

Say Cheese

I’m allergic to zucchini and some melons. Recently, I’ve started to react to Parmesan cheese. I’m fine with milk and other types of cheese. What is going on?

Dr. Jain Little research exists on allergies to cheese in people who aren’t allergic to dairy. What is known is that aging cheese can change dairy proteins sufficiently so that certain people can, in fact, be allergic to a particular cheese but not to milk or other forms of dairy. It’s possible you’re reacting to something else in the cheese, such as mold or the rennet enzymes used to curdle the cheese. Discuss your reaction with your allergist. He or she may ask you to bring in the cheese so that you can be tested, your reaction assessed and the allergen determined.

A Good Seed

My child is allergic to wheat, rice and oats. I’m trying to find alternative grains that she can eat. What about buckwheat?

Dr. Jain Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat. It’s a seed from a family of plants called Eriogonum. Buckwheat is available as groats and as a flavorful flour that’s used in baked goods like breads and pancakes. Most individuals who are allergic to wheat and certain other grains are able to safely consume buckwheat. Full of protein, fiber and nutrients, it provides a nutritious alternative for those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Your daughter may enjoy other alternative grains, such as sorghum, millet, teff, amaranth and quinoa, all of which are known for their relatively high nutrient content. For more about baking with alternative flours, go to

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