Living With Food Allergies

Food Allergy Facts and Figures

A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system sees a certain food as harmful and reacts by causing symptoms. This is an allergic reaction. Foods that cause allergic reactions are called allergens.

Allergic reactions can involve the skin, mouth, eyes, lungs, heart, gut and brain. Mild and severe symptoms can lead to a serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis (anna-fih-LACK-sis). This reaction usually involves more than one part of the body and can worsen quickly. Anaphylaxis must treated with epinephrine immediately because delay can cause death. 

How Common Are Food Allergies?

  • Food allergies are most common in young children.1
  • Milk, egg, wheat and soy allergies are often outgrown. But most people do not outgrow peanut, tree nut, fish and shellfish allergies.
  • Food allergies affect approximately 4 to 6 percent of children in the U.S.2
  • In 2015, 4.2 million children under 18 years of age had food allergies over the previous 12 months.3
  • Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have asthma or other allergic disease.2
  • Food allergies occur at a lower rate in Hispanic children at 3.6 percent. Food allergies in non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black children are greater than 5 percent.4

What Are the Most Frequent Food Allergens?

  • Eight foods cause 90 percent of most food allergy reactions5:
    • Milk
    • Egg
    • Peanut
    • Tree nut (e.g., almonds, walnut, pecans, cashews, pistachios)
    • Wheat
    • Soy
    • Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
    • Shellfish (e.g., crab, shrimp, scallop, clams)

Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish tend to persist lifelong. Allergies to milk, egg, wheat and soy often disappear with age, but not always.

What Is Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction.5

  • Not all allergic reactions are anaphylactic.2
  • Anaphylaxis can cause:
    • Tightening of the airways
    • Swelling of the throat
    • Severely low blood pressure
    • Shock5
  • Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction can include5:
    • Skin: hives (often very itchy), flushed skin or rash
    • Mouth: swelling of the lips, tongue and throat; tingling or itchy feeling in the mouth
    • Lungs: shortness of breath, trouble breathing, coughing or wheezing
    • Heart: dizziness, lightheadedness
    • Stomach: vomiting, diarrhea
  • Food, latex, insect stings and medicines can cause a severe allergic reaction.1
  • Each year in the U.S., it is estimated that severe reactions to food cause:
    • 30,000 emergency room visits
    • 2,000 hospitalizations
    • 150 deaths5

How Are Food Allergies Managed and Treated?

  • There is currently no cure for food allergies.2
  • Avoiding the allergen is the most important way to prevent a reaction.2
  • Those with food allergies should carefully read food labels and always ask about ingredients before eating the food.5
  • Epinephrine is the first line of treatment for anaphylaxis.5
  • Those with food allergies should always have epinephrine auto-injectors on hand.5
  • If a person is having anaphylaxis, they should:

Medical Review September 2017.

References

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gateway to Health Communication & Social Marketing Practice. https://www.cdc.gov/healthcomm.../tips/allergies.html. (Retrieved September 19 2017)
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food Allergies in Schools. https://www.cdc.gov/healthysch...dallergies/index.htm. (Retrieved September 19 2017)
3. National Center for Health Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Allergies and Hay Fever. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/allergies.htm. (Retrieved September 19 2017)
4. National Center for Health Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Trends in Allergic Conditions Among Children: United States, 1997–2011. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db121.htm. (Retrieved September 19 2017)
5. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Food Allergies: What You Need to Know. https://www.fda.gov/Food/Ingre...ergens/ucm079311.htm. (Retrieved September 19 2017)