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1 in 10 adults have a food allergy, but twice as many think they do

A new study has found that 19 percent of adults in the United States think they have a food allergy, but not all of them actually do. The researchers found that just over 10 percent of the population, or 26 million Americans, have symptoms that are consistent with a true food allergy, which can be life-threatening.

Study lead author Dr. Ruchi Gupta is from the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and is also a 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,” said Dr. Gupta.

“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.”

The investigation was based on a nationally representative survey of over 40,000 adults. The researchers found that only half of the adults that likely had a true food allergy had been diagnosed by a physician, and less than 25 percent had a current prescription for epinephrine.

The study also revealed that nearly half of the adults with convincing food allergies had developed at least one of them as an adult.

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

The study results suggest that the most prevalent food allergen among U.S. adults is shellfish, followed by milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fin fish, eggs, wheat, soy, and sesame.

“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,” said Dr. Gupta. “We need more studies to clarify why shellfish allergy appears to be so common and persistent among U.S. adults.”

The study is published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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