Adult Onset Food Allergies: What You Need to Know
Food allergies are a rising concern for many people.
More than 50 million Americans have some type of food allergy, and 15 percent develop in adulthood. Most food allergies begin in childhood, and children either outgrow them or they carry over to adulthood. However, food allergies can occur at any age. Adults can develop an allergy to a food they used to eat with no problem.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms is important to controlling the allergy and avoiding a more serious reaction. A food allergy reaction occurs when your immune system identifies a food as a danger to the body and triggers a protective response.
Symptoms can present on the skin, in the GI tract, in the cardiovascular system, or respiratory tract. Common symptoms of an allergic reaction include: vomiting, stomach cramps, hives, shortness of breath, wheezing, uncontrollable coughing, trouble swallowing, hoarse throat, and swelling of the tongue.
The most severe reaction is known as anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction that can result in difficulty breathing, constricted airways, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and potential shock. Anaphylaxis should be treated right away, if possible, with an epinephrine auto-injector, and emergency medical attention.
Diagnosing Food Allergies
Understanding and diagnosing food allergies is the best way to prevent reactions. An allergist can order a blood test, or perform a skin prick food allergy test. These tests help identify food-specific antibodies present in the body, which might trigger reactions. Both blood and skin tests check for common food allergies such as nuts, shellfish, milk, eggs, and soy.
In addition to seeing an allergist, food allergy sufferers may want to see a dietitian. Managing food allergies is more than just avoiding consumption of foods that cause reactions. A dietitian can help replace trigger foods with nutritionally equivalent safe foods, ensuring the body is getting the proper nutrients. He or she can also help you develop a meal plan.
Adult onset food allergies can happen at any time, however, most reactions occur around the early to mid 30s, with more women than men being affected. Family history can also play a role in developing allergies. Preventive testing is beneficial if family members have lifelong or adult onset food allergies. Knowing what foods trigger sensitivities or reactions helps to avoid more severe circumstances such as an anaphylactic episode.
Prevention and early detection are essential, as the severity of reactions tends to increase with age. Many adults are unaware of the mild signs and symptoms of food allergies until a more severe reaction occurs. A primary care physician can help answer questions if food allergies are a concern or if there have been previous incidents with food reactions.
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Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture