1 In 10 U.S. Adults Have Food Allergies — But Twice As Many Think They Do

Ariel Parrella-Aureli
January 05, 2019 - 3:56 pm

Are you sure you have a peanut allergy or do you just think so because you get red and itchy? A new study by the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago found that one in 10 U.S. adults have a food allergy but nearly double think they do, even if that means their symptoms are inconsistent with a true food allergy.

The study, released Jan. 4, said that 19 percent of adults think they are food allergic, compared to the 10 percent of those who actually have a diagnososed allergy, which is over 26 million people in the country. 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 we found that one in 10 adults have food allergy, nearly twice as many adults think that they are allergic to foods, while their symptoms may suggest food intolerance or other food related conditions,” Gupta said in the press release.

Rearchers 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. Researchers also found that nearly half of food-allergic adults developed at least one of their food allergies as an adult, a surprising fact Gupta said needs more research.

The study data indicated that the most prevalent food allergens among U.S. 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).

“Our data show that shellfish is the top food allergen in adults, that shellfish allergy commonly begins in adulthood, and that this allergy is remarkably common across the lifespan,” Gupta said. “We need more studies to clarify why shellfish allergy appears to be so common and persistent among U.S. adults.”

While some of these allergies can be life-threatening, knowing their symptoms and getting diagnosed are crucial to proper treatment, the study said. According to the Mayo Clinic, common symptoms for peanut allergies are a runny nose, redness or skin swelling, itching to the mouth and throat, digestive problems, tightening of the throat and trouble breathing. Similarly, shellfish allergy symptoms are hives, itching or eczema, swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, wheezing and trouble breathing and vomiting, diarrhea or nausea. Sometimes, it can also cause fainting and dizziness.