Study: 1 in 10 US adults has a food allergy

File photo

We often think of food allergies as a childhood condition, but according to a recent national study, food allergies impact more than 10 percent of United States adults.

The study, which looked at 40,443 U.S. adults, found the most common allergies were shellfish, milk, peanut, tree nut and finfish.

Researchers also found almost half of the people who had food allergies had developed at least one of them during adulthood.

According to Dr. Alice Hoyt, an allergist at Cleveland Clinic, it’s important for adults to know if they have a food allergy because it can cause life-threatening reactions.

“If you have a food allergy, then you’re at risk for anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction,” she said. “Anaphylaxis may include symptoms of hives, trouble breathing, swelling of the face and the extremities, vomiting, low pressure and even potentially death.” 

Hoyt said people need to know if they have a food allergy so they can carry an epinephrine auto-injector, and know which foods to avoid and which foods are safe.

She said many people often mistake a food intolerance for a food allergy. Quick-onset symptoms such as hives, trouble breathing and vomiting are more likely to occur with an allergy, whereas symptoms such as upset stomach and diarrhea are more common with food intolerance.

“Just because a food does not cause an allergic reaction, doesn’t mean that food makes you comfortable when you eat it," Hoyt said. “Teasing those two things out -- allergy versus intolerance -- is very important so that you can live your life without having life-threatening symptoms or without having uncomfortable symptoms.” 

For those who have trouble with certain foods, but are unsure if symptoms are a result of a food allergy or a food intolerance, Hoyt suggests seeing an allergist. 

“See an allergist and get your question answered -- everyone deserves that,” she said. “Everyone deserves to know, ‘Do I have an allergy? Or do I have an intolerance? And what can I do about it?’”

Complete results of the study can be found in JAMA Network Open.