How common are food allergies?

Half of people who think they have a food allergy do not – study

Half of people who think they have a food allergy do not – study

Investigators estimated that 10.8% (95% CI: 10.4-11.1) of USA adults have at least 1 or more current convincing food allergies. The study surveyed 40,000 adults and was conducted by Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University.

While some of these allergies can be life-threatening, knowing their symptoms and getting diagnosed are crucial to proper treatment, the study said. (Here's how you should handle your food allergies at social events.) However, many people may innocently associate the negative effects of food "not agreeing with their system" as being an allergy, even if it doesn't meet the technical criteria, she adds.

To arrive at their findings, the researchers surveyed more than 40,400 US adults. Regarding food allergies, when some people eat a certain type of food - such as nuts, shellfish, wheat or dairy - it broadcasts an alarm signal to their immune system, provoking reactions that can vary widely between individuals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In some cases, an allergy can cause anaphylaxis, a severe reaction which can result in seizures and death if left untreated. Nearly half of all food-allergic adults reported symptoms starting in adulthood and almost 40 percent had visited the emergency room for a severe reaction.

The study data indicated that the most prevalent food allergens among US adults are shellfish (affecting 7.2 million adults), milk (4.7 million), peanut (4.5 million), tree nut (3 million), fin fish (2.2 million), egg (2 million), wheat (2 million), soy (1.5 million), and sesame (.5 million).

Researchers discovered that only half of adults with convincing food allergy had a physician-confirmed diagnosis, and less than 25 percent reported a current epinephrine prescription. The survey served as an extension to the same team's 2009-2010 national child food allergy survey, developed by pediatricians, allergists, health services researchers, and methodologists for surveys. "That's a big number".

There's likely to be a rising number of Americans with food allergies over the coming years as the number of adult-onset allergies continues to rise along with the number of allergies seen in children. "There was definitely a need for a study like this". Prior studies had estimated that around 9 percent of adults had food allergies. "This is double that". Gupta encouraged parents to teach their kids how to "read food labels, educate others about their allergy and treat a reaction if one occurs".

"If they only had, say, bloating or stomach pain or diarrhoea then we took them out because that could be a lactose intolerance or a food intolerance", said Gupta. Symptoms of food intolerance, like difficulty digesting particular foods, or oral allergy syndrome, which is the itchy mouth seen in adults with hay fever, were not included in the data.

Although some children with allergies may grow out of them, many will become adults with allergies. Of the adults with allergies in the new research, 45.3% were allergic to more than one food item. "That's a lot of people on unnecessary elimination diets that could have consequences in terms of cost, worry and nutritional impact". And while a new survey says some people falsely think they're allergic, the numbers are climbing. So I'm not surprised they don't have them, even though they should.