Around Half Of All Reported Food Allergies Are False Alarms, Says Study

About one in four (24 percent) reported a current epinephrine prescription, and 38.3 percent reported at least one emergency department visit related to food allergy.

A new survey found almost 20 percent of adults think they have food allergies, but only a little over 10 percent of people are actually food allergic.

To be considered a "convincing" food allergy, a respondent had to list one or more of the following symptoms: hives, swelling, difficulty swallowing, throat tightening, chest tightening, trouble breathing, wheezing, vomiting, chest pain, rapid heart rate, fainting or feeling light-headed, and low blood pressure.

Unsure if you have a food allergy?

To the untrained eye, other conditions can look a lot like allergic reactions.

Ruchi S. Gupta, M.D., M.P.H., from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional survey study involving USA adults. But these symptoms are not necessarily indicative of a food allergy. When projected onto the broader population, the team's results suggest that some 26 million American adults may be living with a food allergy.

The new estimates were based on survey responses from nearly 40,500 American adults who were asked if they had any diagnosed allergies, symptoms or hospitalizations. "That number is high", Gupta tells Amina Zafar of CBC News. "More research is needed to understand why this is occurring and how we might prevent it".

"Some of these foods you know that they probably were able to eat [previously] because they are such common foods in the diet, but shellfish was interesting - it could be one that they are trying for the first time as an adult". Forty-eight percent of food-allergic adults developed allergies as an adult.

The study findings showed that 7.2 million adults have shellfish allergies, making it the biggest food allergen in the group.

Led by paediatrician and food allergy researcher Dr. Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, researchers from Anna and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern University assessed answers from a survey of 40,443 and found that while more than 10 percent of adults had a diagnosed food allergy, a whopping 19 percent simply believed they had an allergy.

The bottom line, according to Gupta, is that suspected allergic reactions should always be checked out by a medical professional. "If a food allergy is confirmed, understanding the management is also critical, including recognizing symptoms of anaphylaxis and how and when to use epinephrine".

Vanessa Coleman

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