What you need to know:
Food allergies are common among children, but what do we know about food allergies in the adult population? The burden of adult food allergy has not been widely studied, but researchers believe certain foods are more likely to cause an allergy in adulthood. Shellfish is the most common food trigger in adults affecting more than 3.5% of the U.S. population. Tree nut allergy is the second most common adult food allergy and has increased 260% since 2008.
A study of more than 40,000 adults between October 9, 2015 and September 18, 2016 published in JAMA Network Open last week concluded that approximately 26 million U.S. adults likely suffer from a food allergy. Many participants who self-reported in this study had not been formally diagnosed with a food allergy by a healthcare provider but believed their symptoms in relation to certain foods were consistent with an allergic reaction.
It is important to note that food intolerance may have similar symptoms to food allergy, but there are key differences. Food intolerance occurs when the body is unable to properly metabolize food and causes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, whereas food allergy triggers a response in the immune system which can be life-threatening. Symptoms of an allergic reaction may also include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. More severe symptoms may present such as swelling and itching of the lips, mouth, and pharynx, angioedema, urticaria, and anaphylaxis.
Patients who self-report a food allergy should have a thorough history and physical exam. Providers need to ensure that these patients receive appropriate verification testing and counseling as a safeguard, so food is not wrongly avoided, and quality of life is not negatively impacted.
Read more about food allergies:
Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 8e. Chapter 14. Anaphylaxis, Allergies, and Angioedema > Food Allergy Reactions
Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment 2019: Chapter. 20 Rheumatologic, Immunologic, and Allergic Disorders > Food Allergy
Gastrointestinal Physiology, 2e: Chapter 6. Intestinal Mucosal Immunology and Ecology > Food Allergy
JAMA Network Open: Prevalence and Severity of Food Allergies Among US Adults