The public perception is that 20-25% of the population suffers from allergies, however the numbers are much lower:
3-4% of adults and 6-8% of children suffer from a food allergy. This is because there are a number of food
intolerances which are often mistaken for food allergies. This includes lactose intolerance, celiac disease, food
poisoning, and many others. Lactose intolerance results from the body being unable to break down lactose, causing
abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Celiac disease results from gluten intolerance. Gluten is found in many
foods, including oat and wheat products.
Food allergies occur when the body creates a certain type of antibody called IgE to food particles. The Antibody
IgE is the same type of molecule that results in other types of allergies, such as hay fever or allergies to bees and
medications. In essence, with a food allergy, the immune system over reacts to something that is not normally
harmful to the body and the end result is unfortunately a reaction that can be very severe, even deadly. The
symptoms of food allergies can vary and may include swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat, hives, abdominal pain,
vomiting, wheezing, and even death. Most of the time, an allergic reaction to food will develop rapidly -within a few
seconds to an hour of ingesting the food. Sometimes reactions can take an hour or two to develop. Rarely, they
can take much longer - one example is red meat allergy which I have been seeing with increased frequency over the
past couple of years here in Northern Virginia. With this type of allergy, reactions from eating beef, lamb, or deer
meat can develop 4-8 hours after eating. It is estimated that 200 people die every year from food allergies in the
Food allergies are much more common than they used to be. The incidence of peanut allergies has doubled in the
past 10 years. The most common food allergies in children are milk, egg, wheat, soy, and peanuts. In adults, the
most common food allergies are peanuts and shellfish. Most children with food allergies will outgrow them by
early adolescence. However, peanut and shellfish allergies rarely go away. A family history of asthma,
environmental allergies, eczema, or food allergies are all risk factors for children to develop food allergies. A child
with a brother or sister who is allergic to peanuts is 10 times more likely to become allergic to peanut compared to
the general population.
Recent studies seem to indicate that children with food allergies are also at higher risk to develop environmental
allergies and asthma later in life.
Updated 25 Aug 2010
Sampson HA. Update on food allergy J Allergy Clin Immunol 2004;113:805-819
Hong et al. Food allergy and eosinophilic esophagitis: learning what to avoid. Cleveland Clinic Journal of
What Are Food Allergies?
Do you have a tip or allergy free recipe you would like to share? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or click here
We want your feedback!
Do you have a comment, suggestion, or tip you would like to share? click here or send an email to email@example.com