Food allergies can be a very scary thing: If you don’t know you’re allergic to something, you definitely don’t want to find out by accident, as there can be very dangerous consequences. Most people associate food allergies with young children, but a new study shows that nearly half of food allergies show up in adulthood, which is a lot more than previously thought. If you’re suddenly finding that your night cheese doesn’t sit so well with you anymore, well, the fact that you can develop food allergies in your twenties, thirties, and beyond is likely to blame.
The study in question, which was presented at a meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, surveyed over 40,000 American adults in over 50,000 households. They found that the most common food allergy in the U.S. was shellfish, which affected almost 4 percent of all adults, an increase of almost 50 percent since 2004, when another landmark study on allergies was done. They also found that the prevalence of tree nut allergies had increased to almost 2 percent of adults. Even more striking was the fact that 45 percent of the adults surveyed had developed these allergies as adults — that’s a lot of people who, until recently, were perfectly fine enjoying a PB&J.
The researchers also found that white people were less likely to develop a food allergy in adulthood compared with Black, Asian, and Hispanic adults, and that the incidence of food allergies in adults is increasing across all ethnic groups. People of color are also more likely than white people to have asthma, a condition whose relationship to allergies is thought to be linked.
The press release from the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology also said that many adults may not think that their new allergy is in fact an allergy, but rather a food intolerance that can be sort of powered through. “Because many adults believe food allergies mostly affect children, they may not think to get tested. It is important to see an allergist for testing and diagnosis if you are having a reaction to a food and suspect a food allergy,” said Christopher Warren, PhD candidate and study co-author, in a press release. Food allergies can not only impact your quality of life in a negative way, if they’re ignored, but they can also have deadly consequences, especially if you aren’t prepared for a possible allergic reaction.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, allergies happen because your body’s “natural defenses overreact to exposure to a particular substance, treating it as an invader and sending out chemicals to defend against it.” If you’ve never had an allergic reaction before, you might be having one if you develop hives, a wheezing cough, stomach cramps or throwing up, or swelling of the tongue. This may not occur after eating a new food for the first time — since new allergies can show up into adulthood, if you have an allergic reaction to something, you’ll want to make an appointment with an allergist to have the allergy properly diagnosed.
If you have developed an allergy to one of your favorite foods, all isn’t lost necessarily. Research into immunotherapy treatments in 2015 found success suppressing peanut and egg-white allergic responses in mice, and another study in 2016 saw positive results after using a common kind of gut bacteria to quell the inflammation response in peanut-allergic mice. So, while relief may not be immediate, there is hope on the horizon for you adult allergy sufferers, and studies like this one are opening the gates for more information.