Shellfish tops list of U.S. adult food allergies

(Credit: Getty Images)

More than 10 percent of adults in the United States—over 26 million—are estimated to have food allergy, and almost twice as many people believe they do, according to new research.

“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,” says Ruchi Gupta, professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, a physician at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Food allergy can trigger a life-threatening reaction. “It is important to see a physician for appropriate testing and diagnosis before completely eliminating foods from the diet. If food allergy is confirmed, understanding the management is also critical, including recognizing symptoms of anaphylaxis and how and when to use epinephrine,” Gupta says.

Only half of adults with food allergy symptoms had a physician-confirmed diagnosis, and less than 25 percent reported a current epinephrine prescription. Further, nearly half of food-allergic adults developed at least one of their food allergies as an adult, according to the study.

“We were surprised to find that adult-onset food allergies were so common,” Gupta says. “More research is needed to understand why this is occurring and how we might prevent it.”

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).

“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 says. “We need more studies to clarify why shellfish allergy appears to be so common and persistent among US adults.”

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease of the National Institutes of Health, the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford University, and other sources funded the work.

The paper appears in JAMA Network Open.

Source: Northwestern University