Fresh Cut Grass

At least two possibilities if you react to fresh cut grass.

Grass allergy (late spring, kicks up the pollen)


Mold allergy (year around)

I clearly have a problem with fresh cut grass. I suspect mainly the mold being kicked up when the lawn is mowed.

Unfortunately, I may also have grass allergy. Haven’t got tested for it yet but I get sneezing fits in May out on the grass even when it’s not freshly cut. And possibly related to my grain food allergies. After all cereal grains are the seeds of grass.

In the central and northern United States and Canada, grass generally pollinates in May, June and July. Farther south, the pollen starts filling the air a couple of months earlier. 

• Avoid being the person who cuts the grass in the pollinating months of May through July. The lawn mower kicks up the pollen and sends it into your eyes and nose. If it’s only grass allergy you’re contending with, you may be fine to mow the lawn in other months.

Kim notes however, that “often patients will have allergy symptoms with fresh cut grass in August or September. That’s not grass pollen allergy, that may be mold allergy from the molds being stirred up.” As well, Stark cautions that the dust the lawn mower creates while it’s trimming can get into your nasal passages like pollen, and also cause symptoms.

Gochujang Incident

Gochujang is a Korean condiment. A mixture of hot pepper, sweetener, and fermented soy paste (doenjang). I had been avoiding these for some time after going gluten-free as most commercial versions contain wheat and/ or barley. I finally found some products made the traditional way that were gluten-free. I made a bowl of bibimbap (rice, egg, and sauteed veggies) and added a dollop of the gochujang. But a short while later I ended up vomiting and sweating profusely. I had been episode free for over a year. I am pretty sure this gochujang was the culprit because I ate everything at home that day, made myself, and everything else were items I knew to be safe. When a reaction is this painful and I’m pretty sure about the culprit, I don’t want to test it again for the sake of knowing with absolute certainty. This incident finally got me thinking about that allergy I had to mold and especially to aspergillus mix. Traditionally fermented soy paste can include many varieties of molds but the main one is aspergillus oryzae. Unlike most commercial versions, the product was also unpasteurized, which meant the cultures were alive, and may have been the critical reason why this was the first clear acute reaction I had to a fermented soy product.

Mold as Food Allergy

Mold was not something we were looking out for but incidents made it increasingly clear that I was reacting to it. The presence of moldy fruit or freshly cut grass would cause sneezing, runny nose, and headaches. When ingested (accidentally, from a mold contaminated smoothie maker) it also caused sharp abdominal pain in addition to the aforementioned symptoms. Later in the day it would lead to dizziness, food cravings, and napping.

Mold allergy is mostly thought of as an environmental, inhalant allergy, but does it have any implications for food choices? Despite the smoothie maker incident and later a positive skin prick test result for aspergillus mix I did not think much of it. It wasn’t until my incident with gochujang that I realized this had relevance with what I put in my mouth as well.

There was not much information online about mold allergies and food. The more formal sites seemed to suggest the relationship is not clear. A few other sites had an extensive list of foods mold allergic people should avoid. Unlike most food allergies, mold is not something you can avoid 100%. There is always some mold in the environment, and mold is always starting to grow on food. This is why things get very murky when you realize you react to mold in food. It becomes a function of your individual tolerance level and the amount of mold in the food.

Now, I am but one person. Well, perhaps two, when I count my spouse, who tested positive to pretty much every type of mold out there.

For what it’s worth, in our experience,

fine: commercial vinegar, pickles, ketchup, soy sauce (small amount)

fine only when sufficiently fresh: raw sprouts, grapes, berries, kimchi

clear problem: raw (unpasteurized) fermented soy products, old fermented or pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, chocolate (might be by different mechanism), any leftovers stored more than a few days

gray area: cooked fermented soy

In short, cooked or pasteurized items did not cause any acute reactions. For example, mushrooms seems to be fine as they are always eaten cooked. Food prepared with a reasonable level of hygiene, and eaten within two to three days with refrigeration, are also likely to be fine. Items likely to have significant live cultures are obvious no no’s.

Cooked fermented soy is the main gray area. We are highly suspicious of it causing at least some mild gastrointestinal symptoms and headache. Though in my partner’s case the main mechanism of this might be high amines. We also noticed that chocolate and cooked fermented soy seems to cause a low mood.

Sneaky Soy

(Phase 6)

It was frustrating at times to constantly suspect yet another ingredient, sometimes even obscure additives in processed foods. Many things were eliminated at one point or another, usually something newly added or relatively infrequently eaten. But symptoms still continued. In hindsight, in such a case it is more likely due to something you eat fairly frequently yet never suspected for one reason or another. 

The main one was soy. The reason it was not suspected was that a larger amount was needed to cause reactions and the immediate reaction, headache, was relatively subtle (although it sometimes got worse over the next day or so) and tended only to happen with less processed forms of soy such as edamame and soy milk. Other more processed forms of soy like tofu caused headache the next day. Diarrhea was more severe and problematic but it also was usually delayed by a day causing us to suspect many other foods eaten right before the incidents.

Later I learned that soy generally tends to have a much higher sensitivity threshold than other allergens, like 100 times higher. So even if you have soy allergy you are unlikely to react to soybean oil, soy lecithin, even soy sauce.

Perhaps my reaction to soy is not an allergy in itself but rather some kind of cross reactivity to my other allergies. My symptoms are a less severe hybrid of that from nuts/ grains (headache) and milk (diarrhea), and the latter is much delayed.

Tree Nut Allergies

I only became aware of my issue with tree nuts after eliminating wheat and milk from my diet. So I do not know when I started to have these allergies. They are considered a more common adult allergy but for what it’s worth I did find chestnut to be addictive since childhood. And based on symptoms, chestnut and possibly pecan were the only ones I thought might actually be a true IgE allergy. I tested positive to pecan but chestnut was not available for testing.

Reaction patterns and sensitivity and severity are all over the map depending on which nut and in what form it is consumed.

Compared to whole nuts, nut milks have much less solids. Most commercial almond milk contains very little protein. It seems my sensitivity level is such that for some nuts I tolerate a small amount of nut milk. Also in my case raw nuts cause a more instant reaction than the same nut roasted.

With roasted chestnut there was no immediate reaction but migraine after exercise, all over itchiness, and later acne. But a small bite of raw chestnut caused immediate abdominal pain and itchiness all over.

With pecan, I only had a small taste of pecan milk, which was enough to cause an instant headache. The swiftness of this was alarming. So I’ve never tried more than this amount. And this was repeated a few days later with just a lick of pecan milk.

Hazelnut milk caused a pretty immediate sore bloated pressure feeling in the stomach but no other obvious symptom. But when I ate the solids left over from making the nut milk (one bite of a cookie made with the remaining hazelnut meal) I had another shock, vomiting, and diarrhea episode.

After severe reaction to hazelnut, milder suspicious issues with almond, macadamia nut and pistachio, I decided perhaps it was not worth the risk to test every tree nut out there. So for the time being I am avoiding all tree nuts except coconut (but is this technically a tree nut? Some classify it as a fruit).

In general tree nut cross reactivity patterns tend to cluster into two related groups: (pecan, walnut) and (almond, cashew, pistachio) with hazelnut potentially appearing in either group.

My tree nut symptoms also cluster into two groups.

Wheat-like reactions (headache, itchiness): pecan, chestnut, macadamia nut?, (walnut? haven’t tried due to its close relation to pecan)

Milk-like reactions (FPIES/ diarrhea): hazelnut, almond, cashew

Highly suspicious of juniper berries (unlike the name, this is similar to pine nut found sometimes in carnitas, other foods?) also causing gastrointestinal trouble (mild milk-like reaction).