High rate of food allergies seen in adults

January 4, 2019 in Allergies & Intolerances, Nutrition Topics in the News

High rate of food allergies seen in adults

More than 10 percent of American adults are allergic to at least one food, according to researchers from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. 

Among more than 40,000 adults surveyed, 10.8 percent reported the kinds of severe symptoms that are consistent with a food allergy, and another 8.2 percent said they believed they had food allergies, but their symptoms suggested other causes. 

To take a closer look at food allergies in adults, the researchers turned to two internet-based surveys of people. All told, 40,433 US adults completed the food allergy survey, for which they received $5 each. 

Those deemed to have a food allergy had least one convincing food allergy symptom: a severe reaction involving the skin or oral mucosa, gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular or respiratory tract. 

People who didn’t have these reactions were assumed to have a food intolerance, such as celiac disease or lactose intolerance, or a non-allergy mediated reaction in the mouth. 

One in three people developed food allergy in adulthood

Among those who were determined to have a food allergy, 48% reported developing at least one of their allergies in adulthood, while 27% developed food allergies only in adulthood. The most common foods causing allergies in these adults were shellfish, milk, peanuts, tree nuts and fin fish. 

Not quite one-half (47%) of the people with food allergies said they had gotten a diagnosis from a physician, 38% reported they had been to the emergency room for a life-threatening reaction, while one quarter said they had a prescription for epinephrine to be used in case of a severe reaction. 

What was surprising was that one-half reported developing at least one food allergy as an adult.

It has always been thought that only 4 to 5% of adults had food allergies.” 

The researchers were also surprised at how many people had developed food allergies in adulthood.

Experts say the new study underscores the fact that this is something that needs to receive more attention.  Food allergies are thought of as a childhood disease yet there are a lot of adults who have food allergies; their management and treatment may be different from children’s.

Source: JAMA Network Open, online January 4, 2019.

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