How serious are food allergies?

Ms. Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), as many as 15 million Americans have food allergies, including approximately 6 million children. Food allergy is a growing public health concern in the US. Though reasons for this are poorly understood, the prevalence of food allergies and associated anaphylaxis appears to be on the rise. The incidence of peanut and tree nut allergy among children appears to have tripled between 1997 and 2008. Research suggests that food-related anaphylaxis might be underdiagnosed.

Food allergy reactions can range from mild to life-threatening (severe). If you are diagnosed with a food allergy, the only way to avoid a reaction is by practicing strict avoidance of that food. If you have multiple food allergies and are avoiding many different foods, you might be at risk of not adequately meeting your nutritional needs. A registered dietitian specializing in food allergies can be a valuable resource in assisting you in this process.

Scientists estimate that approximately 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies.

According to Marc Riedl, MD, who serves as co-director of UCLA’s Food Allergy Clinic, "Food allergies are not as common as most people think. When asked, as many as 30 percent of people will say they have a food allergy, but the vast majority of these people don’t have a true, life-threatening food allergy." The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases estimates that food allergies occur in 6 percent to 8 percent of children 4 years of age or younger, and less than 4 percent of adults.

Dr. Riedl explains, "There is tremendous stress and anxiety associated with perceived food allergies, and often these concerns are unnecessary and unfounded. It’s very uncommon, particularly in adults, to have long lists of true food allergies."

Says pediatric allergist Maria Garcia-Lloret, MD, co-director of UCLA’s Food Allergy Clinic, "Misdiagnoses often occur when people receive blood allergy tests for multiple foods. In some cases, these tests may overestimate the body’s immune response to the antigen that causes a reaction. This may prompt some people to restrict their diets unnecessarily, which can increase financial burdens for families who believe they need to purchase expensive, specialized foods to avoid allergic reactions, and may also lead to nutritional deficiencies in children."

Food allergies affect about 6 percent of children and 3.5 percent of adults. Recent US studies indicate that the prevalence of food allergies is increasing. For children, the most significant food allergies are milk, egg and peanuts, with prevalence rates of 2.5 percent, 1.3 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively. Rates of food intolerances are much higher than true IgE-mediated food allergies.

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Food allergies affect 4 to 8 percent of children and 2 percent of adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the US, food allergy incidence increased by 18 percent from 1997 to 2007. Reasons for this increase range from misdiagnosis to potential increases due to extreme approaches to cleanliness.

Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, MD
Allergist & Immunologist

Common food allergies come in very many different colors and shapes, with reactions ranging from mild to life-threatening. For instance, some people develop oral allergy symptoms that include itchiness of the mouth and throat after ingestion of various foods such as fruits and veggies. On the other end of the spectrum, some people develop generalized or potentially life-threatening allergic-type reactions after exposure to even small quantities of food they are indeed sensitive to.

Continue Learning about Food Allergies & Food Intolerance

Food Allergies & Food Intolerance

Food Allergies & Food Intolerance

Food allergies occur when the body attacks a food it mistakes as harmful, causing symptoms such as nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, shortness of breath or hives. With food intolerance, the digestive system alone rejects the food, f...

inding it difficult to digest properly. Foods such as peanuts, shellfish, eggs, soy or wheat are the most common type of food allergens.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.