The number of people who think they have a food allergy is almost double the amount of people who actually have one, according to new research.
Nowadays, gluten-free, dairy-free, raw food and many other selective diets are all the rage, even though only a handful of us are really allergic to their ingredients.
A food allergy is an immune system response to a food protein that the body believes is harmful. In Australia, food allergy is estimated to affect up to 2 per cent of adults and 6 per cent of children, according to Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. An estimated 10 people die from anaphylactic reactions each year in Australia and some of these are triggered by food.
However the new research, published in JAMA Network Open, found that almost one in five adults in the United States think they have a food allergy, while only one in 10 actually do. The research team analysed data from a national survey of more than 40,000 adults to look at this issue more closely.
“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,” lead author Ruchi Gupta said.
“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 recognising symptoms of anaphylaxis and how and when to use epinephrine.”
Researchers found that only half of adults with a convincing food allergy had a physician-confirmed diagnosis, and less than 25 per cent reported a current epinephrine prescription.
Another interesting finding of the study is that nearly half of food-allergic adults developed at least one of their allergies in adulthood.
“We were surprised to find that adult-onset food allergies were so common,” Gupta said. “More research is needed to understand why this is occurring and how we might prevent it.”
Shellfish is the most common food allergy in adults, affecting over seven million Americans, followed closely by milk (4.7 million) and peanuts (4.5 million). Tree nut (3 million), fin fish (2.2 million), egg (2 million), wheat (2 million), soy (1.5 million) and sesame (0.5 million) were all common among adults.
“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,” she added.
“We need more studies to clarify why shellfish allergy appears to be so common and persistent among US adults.”