Discussion of food allergies tends to focus on children (for a lot of reasons), but a recent study found a much higher rate of food allergies among adults than expected. They found that 10.8 percent of American adults – that extrapolates to 26 million people! — reported a convincing food allergy (based on actual symptoms reported – another 9% reported allergies, but their symptoms didn’t match the diagnosis – presumably at least some of the rest are genuine intolerances). That’s actually higher than the rate among children found by another recent study, which came up with 7.6%.
Now, my first thought on reading this was: Of course! Kids with food allergies who were counted 10, 20, 30 years ago have grown up, and we’re adults now! But it’s more than that: There’s a lot more adult-onset allergies than anyone expected to find.
The JAMA article goes into the numbers. Of those who had a convincing allergy:
- 48% developed at least one allergy as an adult
- 26.9% developed allergies only as an adult.
- 53.8% developed allergies only before turning 18
More than a quarter of adults with food allergies didn’t have them as children. That’s a surprise! And it raises questions: Is there a different mechanism that triggers childhood-onset allergies vs. adult-onset? (Other than tick bites, of course.) What about those of us who had allergies already and added more? Is there some sort of saturation threshold?
There are still a lot of unknowns about food allergies. But we do know that they can be deadly serious, and they affect a lot of people.