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

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While food allergies may not be as common as people think, they are still risky.

The team surveyed a nationally representative group of more than 40,000 people via the internet and telephone between October 2015 and September 2016.

"While we found that one in 10 adults have food allergy, almost twice as many adults think that they are allergic to foods, while their symptoms may suggest food intolerance or other food-related conditions", Ruchi Gupta, a Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and study lead author, said in a news release. Volunteers were given a list of reactions that signify a true allergy, e.g., hives, lip/tongue swelling, chest tightening, and asked which they had experienced. Food allergies are immune system reactions that are triggered because the body perceives certain foods as harmful. "For example, lactose intolerance is due to a lack of an enzyme to break down milk, but this is very different from a milk allergy which, in some patients, can be life threatening", he says. Lead author Ruchi Gupta, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, suspects that many people who say they are allergic are actually suffering from something like a food intolerance. But these symptoms are not necessarily indicative of a food allergy. But according to a new study, about 11% of American adults actually do.

While the number of adults with true food allergies may be less than the reported number, there are still many Americans who suffer from the condition. "That number is high", Gupta tells Amina Zafar of CBC News. Shellfish, milk, peanut, tree nut, and fin fish were the most common allergies (2.9, 1.9, 1.8, 1.2, and 0.9 percent, respectively).

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"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".

This discrepancy suggests that quite a few adults are conflating allergies with less-severe food intolerances, which typically come with minimal digestion-related symptoms, the researchers write.

Only half the adults who visited a physician with a convincing food allergy got a confirmed diagnosis, according to researchers. "If food allergy is confirmed, understanding the management is also critical, including recognizing symptoms of anaphylaxis and how and when to use epinephrine".

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