Can You Develop Food Allergies as an Adult?

Many parents know to watch for signs of an allergic reaction with their babies and young children, such as hives, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal issues, and more. What they may not realize is that they themselves could also acquire a food allergy at any time. 

Here at our offices of Midwest Allergy Sinus Asthma, SC (MASA) located in Normal and Springfield, Illinois, Dr. Dareen Siri and her team of talented Advanced Practice Providers -- Dana Dalbak PA, Kat Lally NP, Caitlyn Fox NP, Tamara Reeter NP, and Dr. Kaufmann-- along with our highly trained staff use state-of-the-art technology and compassionate, personalized care to provide the best possible treatment. Whether you have asthma or allergies, we can diagnose your issue, create a plan, and help you feel better soon.

Here’s what you need to know about food allergies as an adult, including symptoms and treatment.

Food allergy statistics

Approximately 32 million Americans have food allergies. Over five million are children under age 18. However, not everyone develops food allergies in childhood. Forty-five percent of adults with food allergies actually develop them in adulthood.

Food allergy facts

While over 170 foods have been known to cause an allergic reaction, 90% can be traced to just 8 — milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish. In adults, shellfish (crustaceans and mollusks) along with peanuts, tree nuts, and fish are the most common culprits.  Sesame seed has also become more prominent over the years, often co-existing with tree nut allergy, with 0.5% of Americans citing it as an allergy. 

Fruit and vegetables can also cause oral allergy syndrome (aka pollen-food allergy syndrome) which involves a reaction that happens because the proteins in certain fruits and vegetables are similar to those found in pollen. Typically, reactions only occur when the food is eaten raw.

Symptoms

An allergic reaction can happen at any time, even when consuming a food you have eaten many times before. It's also important to note the severity of an attack can change. Just because you had a mild episode once doesn't guarantee it won't be severe the next time around.

Symptoms of an allergy attack can vary and include everything from an itchy mouth and swollen lips, tongue, and throat to hives, rashes, and eczema. Digestive issues like diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain can occur as well. Sneezing, nasal congestion, wheezing, a tightening of the throat, and difficulty breathing are other signs, along with fainting, a drop in blood pressure or a weak pulse.

Often, symptoms begin anywhere from a few minutes to two hours following consumption, though occasionally it can take four to six hours or more.  For example, new-onset meat allergy, which may occur after being exposed to certain tick bites, may arise several hours after consuming beef. If symptoms are serious enough, it may be an anaphylactic reaction, which can develop quickly and be life-threatening.

Diagnosis and treatment

In addition to exposure, allergies develop from a combination of factors due to genetics, conditions, and timing — such as gut health, hormones, age, gender, and body fat. The first time a food is encountered will not result in an allergic reaction, but after this initial sensitization, it can happen the next time.

Allergies can be determined through several methods, including a skin-prick test. This test allows a very small amount of the allergen to enter the body, just below the skin. Or, you may be given an intradermal skin test, which is similar to a skin-prick test, but more sensitive. After the allergen is introduced, your doctor will then watch for a reaction.

If you suspect you have a food allergy, getting a proper diagnosis is key to knowing what food(s) to avoid. You may also be prescribed a life-saving epinephrine injector in case of an accidental exposure and anaphylactic reaction. 

The team at MASA are food allergy experts with a Food Allergy Center for Treatment, offering comprehensive and advanced skin and blood tests, as well as treatment through allergy food drops and oral immunotherapy, known as OIT. If you suspect you may have developed a food allergy, make an appointment with us by calling one of our offices or booking an appointment online. 

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