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You Might Think You Have a Food Allergy-But You're Probably Wrong

11 January 2019

Nineteen percent of respondents claimed to be food allergic, but only 10.8 percent of adult Americans have what the researchers deem a "convincing" food allergy, which is to say that their most severe reaction included at least one symptom on a list developed by an expert panel.

Research conducted by Northwestern University found that roughly 20 percent of people surveyed think they have a food allergy.

"We were surprised to find that adult-onset food allergies were so common", Gupta says. Almost half of food-allergic adults had at least one adult-onset food allergy, and 38 percent reported at least one food-allergy-related emergency department visit in their lifetime. Then, they revealed whether this assessment was self-diagnosed or determined through a test at the doctor's office.

Common food allergy symptoms are hives, welling and chest pain. 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.

The most common allergies, in descending order, were shellfish, milk, peanuts, tree nuts and finned fish.

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Although the study found that few people have true food allergies, this doesn't mean that 10 percent of the participants were just making things up. Instead, researchers believe this group could have food intolerances, since many experience stomach cramps or nausea after eating a trigger item.

So what's the difference between the two?

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.

"It is crucial that adults with suspected food allergy receive appropriate confirmatory testing and counseling to ensure food is not unnecessarily avoided and quality of life is not unduly impaired", according to the study's conclusion. Lactose intolerance, for instance, is not the same as a milk allergy, nor is celiac disease, which renders people unable to eat wheat, is also not considered a true allergy. Food allergies are immune system reactions that are triggered because the body perceives certain foods as harmful. You'll generally experience some sort of skin discomfort, such as a rash, itching or swelling, within one hour of eating a particular food, says Parikh.

You Might Think You Have a Food Allergy-But You're Probably Wrong