Background Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is an extensively grown and consumed vegetable. To a lesser extent than other Liliaceae vegetables, allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) due to asparagus has been reported. However, only a few case reports of asparagus IgE-mediated allergy have been published. In a previous study, we demonstrated that two lipid transfer proteins (LTPs) (Aspa o 1.01 and Aspa o 1.02) were relevant allergens of asparagus.
Objective We retrospectively analysed the 27 patients diagnosed with asparagus allergy during the last 5 years. All of them reported adverse symptoms after either asparagus ingestion or handling. We describe their clinical features and evaluate whether they were associated to immunological findings (immunoblot pattern and skin reactivity to LTPs).
Methods Patients underwent skin prick and patch tests with standard panels of vegetables and aeroallergens. Besides crude asparagus extract, two purified LTPs were prick and patch tested. Total and specific IgE measurements and asparagus extract IgE immunoblotting were performed. Patients reporting asthma symptoms underwent specific inhalation challenge to asparagus.
Results Of the 27 subjects, eight had ACD, 17 had IgE-mediated allergy and two had both ACD- and IgE-mediated allergy. Positive patch tests with the crude asparagus extract but not with LTPs were observed in subjects with ACD (n=10). Of 19 patients with IgE-mediated disease, 10 had contact urticaria after asparagus handling. Of them, five subjects and five others without skin allergy showed respiratory symptoms; of them, eight were diagnosed with occupational asthma confirmed by positive asparagus inhalation challenge, whereas the remaining two had isolated rhinitis. Four patients suffered from immediate allergic reactions related to asparagus ingestion (food allergy); three of them reported anaphylaxis whereas the other had oral allergic syndrome. Positive IgE immunoblotting (bands of 15 and 45–70 kDa) was observed in 10 subjects. Of 10 subjects with positive prick test to LTPs, six showed bands at 15 kDa. Either IgE-binding bands or positive prick tests to LTPs were observed in asthma (62%) and anaphylaxis (67%).
Conclusion Asparagus is a relevant source of occupational allergy inducing ACD and also IgE-mediated reactions. Severe disease (anaphylaxis or asthma) is common and LTPs seem to play a major role. The clinical relevance of LTP sensitization among patients with mild disease or symptom-free subjects should be addressed in prospective studies.