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 be treated right away 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.1,4
- About 26 million U.S. adults have food allergies (10.8%).1
- About 5.6 million (7.6%) of children have food allergies.4
- Food allergies are most common in young children.3
- Milk, egg, wheat and soy allergies are often outgrown. But most people do not outgrow peanut, tree nut, fish and shellfish allergies.8
- In 2017, 4.8 million (6.5%) children under 18 years of age had food allergies over the previous 12 months.5
- Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have asthma or other allergic disease.3
- Food allergies occur at a lower rate in Hispanic children at 3.6%. Food allergies in non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black children are greater than 5 percent.6
What Are the Most Frequent Food Allergens?
- Eight foods cause 90 percent of most food allergy reactions7:
- Tree nut (e.g., almonds, walnut, pecans, cashews, pistachios)
- 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.8
What Is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction.7
- Not all allergic reactions are anaphylactic.3
- Anaphylaxis can cause:
- Tightening of the airways
- Swelling of the throat
- Severely low blood pressure
- Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction can include7:
- 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.3
- Each year in the U.S., it is estimated that severe reactions to food cause:
- 30,000 emergency room visits
- 2,000 hospitalizations
- 150 deaths7
How Are Food Allergies Managed and Treated?
- There is currently no cure for food allergies.3
- Avoiding the allergen is the most important way to prevent a reaction.3
- Those with food allergies should carefully read food labels and always ask about ingredients before eating the food.7
- Epinephrine is the first line of treatment for anaphylaxis.7
- Those with food allergies should always have epinephrine auto-injectors on hand.7
- If a person is having anaphylaxis, they should:
Medical Review September 2017. Updated June 2019.
1. Gupta, R. S., Warren, C. M., Smith, B. M., Jiang, J., Blumenstock, J. A., Davis, M. M., … Nadeau, K. C. (2019). Prevalence and Severity of Food Allergies Among US Adults. JAMA Network Open, 2(1), e185630. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.5630
2. CDC.gov. (2018). Allergies | Gateway to Health Communication | CDC. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/toolstemplates/entertainmented/tips/allergies.html [Accessed 14 Feb. 2018].
3. CDC.gov. (2018). Food Allergies | Healthy Schools | CDC. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/foodallergies/index.htm [Accessed 14 Feb. 2018].
4. Gupta RS, Warren CM, Smith BM, et al. The Public Health Impact of Parent-Reported Childhood Food Allergies in the United States. Pediatrics. 2018:142(6):e20181235. (2019). Pediatrics, 143(3), e20183835. doi:10.1542/peds.2018-3835
5. CDC.gov. (2018). FastStats. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/allergies.htm [Accessed 28 June 2019].
6. CDC.gov. (2018). Products - Data Briefs - Number 121 - May 2013. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db121.htm [Accessed 14 Feb. 2018].
7. FDA.gov. (2018). Food Allergies: What You Need to Know. [online] Available at: https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAllergens/ucm079311.htm [Accessed 14 Feb. 2018].
8. Anon, (2018). [online] Available at: https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/at-a-glance/food-allergy [Accessed 14 Feb. 2018].
9. ACAAI Public Website. (2018). Anaphylaxis. [online] Available at: http://acaai.org/allergies/anaphylaxis [Accessed 14 Feb. 2018].