Food Allergies
Food Allergies & Intolerance

Food Allergies Often Begin in Adulthood

Although food allergies are often thought of in terms of children, almost half of all food-allergic adults reported one or more food allergies that began in adulthood, according to new research.

The research was presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting.

“Food allergies are often seen as a condition that begins in childhood, so the idea that 45 percent of adults with food allergies develop them in adulthood is surprising,” says Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, ACAAI member and lead author of the study. “We also saw that, as with children, the incidence of food allergies in adults is rising across all ethnic groups.”

The most common food allergy among adults is shellfish (such as lobster, crab and shrimp), affecting an estimated 3.6 percent of U.S. adults. This marks a 44 percent increase from the 2.5 percent prevalence rate published in an influential 2004 study. Similarly, these new data suggest that adult tree nut allergy prevalence has risen to 1.8 percent from a 2008 estimate of .5 percent, an increase of 260 percent.

“Our research also found that, among black, Asian and Hispanic adults, the risk of developing a food allergy to certain foods is higher than for whites, specifically for shellfish and peanuts,” says food allergy researcher Christopher Warren, PhD candidate and study co-author. “For example, Asian adults were 2.1 times more likely to report a shellfish allergy than white adults, and Hispanic adults reported a peanut allergy at 2.3 times the frequency of white adults. Because many adults believe food allergies mostly affect children, they may not think to get tested. It is important to see an allergist for testing and diagnosis if you are having a reaction to a food and suspect a food allergy.”

People may not recognize they have a food allergy, and believe their reaction is a food intolerance. They might not seek the help of an allergist for diagnosis, but allergists are specially trained to administer allergy testing and diagnose the results. Allergists can tailor a plan specific to your allergies. To find an allergist near you, use the ACAAI allergist locator.