Living With Food Allergies

Food Allergy Facts and Figures

 

What Is a Food Allergy?

  • 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 be treated right away with epinephrine to provide the best chance for improvement and prevent serious, potentially life-threatening complications.

How Common Are Food Allergies?

  • About 32 million people have food allergies in the U.S.1,2
    • About 26 million (10.8%) U.S. adults have food allergies.1
    • About 5.6 million (7.6%) U.S. children have food allergies.2
  • In 2018, 4.8 million (6.5%) children under 18 years of age had food allergies over the previous 12 months.3
  • In 2018, 6% of Black and Hispanic children had food allergies over the previous 12 months, compared to 6.6% of white children.3
    • Food allergy has increased among U.S. children over the past 20 years, with the greatest increase in Black children.4
  • Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have asthma or other allergic diseases.5

What Are the Most Frequent Food Allergens?

  • Nine foods cause 90% of most food allergy reactions in the United States:6
    • Milk
    • Egg
    • Peanut
    • Tree nut (for example, almonds, walnut, pecans, cashews, pistachios)
    • Wheat
    • Sesame
    • Soy
    • Fish (for example, bass, flounder, cod)
    • Shellfish (for example, crab, shrimp, scallop, clams)
  • Sesame is a rising food allergy. It impacts an estimated 1 million people in the United States.7 It was declared a major allergen in the United States in 2021.

What Is Anaphylaxis?

  • Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Not all allergic reactions are anaphylaxis.8
  • Symptoms of anaphylaxis usually involve more than one part of the body such as the skin, mouth, eyes, lungs, heart, gut, and brain.
  • Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include:
    • 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, loss of consciousness, low blood pressure, shock6
    • Stomach: cramps, vomiting, diarrhea6
  • Each year in the U.S., it is estimated that anaphylaxis to food results in 90,000 emergency room visits.8

How Are Food Allergies Managed and Treated?

  • Although new treatments are being developed, there is currently no cure for food allergies.6
  • Not eating the food allergen is the primary way to prevent a reaction.6
  • People with food allergies should carefully read food ingredient labels and always ask about ingredients before eating food prepared by other people. 6
  • Epinephrine is the first line of treatment for anaphylaxis.9
  • People with food allergies should always have epinephrine with them. 9
  • If a person is having anaphylaxis, they should:
    • Follow their Anaphylaxis Action Plan
    • Use their epinephrine
    • Get emergency medical care to ensure symptoms resolve10

Are Food Allergies Outgrown?

  • Milk, egg, wheat, and soy allergies are often outgrown. Most people do not outgrow peanut, tree nut, fish, and shellfish allergies.11

Medical Review: September 2017, updated April 2022 by Gurjit K. Khurana Hershey, MD

 

References

  1. Gupta, R. S., Warren, C. M., Smith, B. M., Jiang, J., Blumenstock, J. A., Davis, M. M., Schleimer, R. P., & Nadeau, K. C. (2019). Prevalence and Severity of Food Allergies Among US Adults. JAMA Network Open, 2(1), e185630. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.5630

  2. Gupta, R. S., Warren, C. M., Smith, B. M., Blumenstock, J. A., Jiang, J., Davis, M. M., & Nadeau, K. C. (2018). The Public Health Impact of Parent-Reported Childhood Food Allergies in the United States. Pediatrics, 142(6). https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-1235

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). FastStats: Allergies and Hay Fever. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/allergies.htm

  4. Keet, C. A., Savage, J. H., Seopaul, S., Peng, R. D., Wood, R. A., & Matsui, E. C. (2014). Temporal Trends and Racial/Ethnic Disparity in Self-Reported Pediatric Food Allergy in the United States. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 112(3), 222-229.e3. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anai.2013.12.007

  5. Branum, A., & Lukacs, S. (2019). Food Allergy Among U.S. Children: Trends in Prevalence and Hospitalizations. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Center for Health Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db10.htm

  6. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2021). Food Allergies: What You Need to Know. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.fda.gov/media/79019/download

  7. Warren, C. M., Chadha, A. S., Sicherer, S. H., Jiang, J., & Gupta, R. S. (2019). Prevalence and Severity of Sesame Allergy in the United States. JAMA Network Open, 2(8), e199144. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.9144

  8. Clark, S., Espinola, J., Rudders, S. A., Banerji, A., & Camargo, C. A. (2011). Frequency of US Emergency Department Visits for Food-Related Acute Allergic Reactions. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 127(3), 682–683. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2010.10.040

  9. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. (2018). Epinephrine Auto-Injector. https://acaai.org/allergies/management-treatment/epinephrine-auto-injector

  10. Cardona, V., Ansotegui, I. J., Ebisawa, M., El-Gamal, Y., Fernandez Rivas, M., Fineman, S., Geller, M., Gonzalez-Estrada, A., Greenberger, P. A., Sanchez Borges, M., Senna, G., Sheikh, A., Tanno, L. K., Thong, B. Y., Turner, P. J., & Worm, M. (2020). World Allergy Organization Anaphylaxis Guidance 2020. World Allergy Organization Journal, 13(10), 100472. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.waojou.2020.100472

  11. Sicherer, S. H., & Sampson, H. A. (2014). Food Allergy: Epidemiology, Pathogenesis, Diagnosis, and Treatment. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 133(2), 291-307.e5. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2013.11.020
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