Food allergies have long been associated with childhood, but recent studies have shown that it is possible to develop food allergies as an adult. While the prevalence of adult food allergies is not as well documented as childhood allergies, research suggests that the number of cases is on the rise. In this article, we will delve into the causes and prevalence of adult-onset food allergies.

One of the main types of adult-onset food allergies is IgE-mediated food allergies. These allergies involve immune reactions triggered by immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. The symptoms of IgE-mediated food allergies can range from mild reactions like hives and swelling to severe reactions such as anaphylaxis. Common IgE-mediated food allergies in adults include shellfish, cow’s milk, peanuts, tree nuts, and fin fish. Notably, about 45% of adults with food allergies report reacting to multiple foods.

While childhood food allergies like cow’s milk, egg, peanut, and soy are well-documented, new adult-onset food allergies are also on the rise. Factors contributing to the increase in adult food allergies include low vitamin D status, immune system challenges, allergen avoidance, and frequent antibiotic use. Tick-meat allergy, also known as α-Gal syndrome, is one such emerging allergy. This allergy is triggered by repeated bites from ticks or chigger mites, leading to a lifelong allergy to red meat.

Another lesser-known adult-onset food allergy is fruit-pollen allergy, also called pollen food allergy syndrome. This allergic reaction occurs when pollen in the air triggers the production of IgE antibodies that cross-react with antigens in fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Common allergenic tree pollens like birch, cypress, and grass can cross-react with fruits like kiwi, banana, and mango. Fruit-pollen allergy can range from mild oral allergy syndrome to severe anaphylaxis.

Food-dependent exercise-induced allergy is another rare type of adult food allergy. This allergy occurs when the stomach produces less acid during heavy exercise, leading to increased gut permeability. Small food molecules that trigger IgE reactions are more likely to escape into the bloodstream, resulting in allergic reactions during exercise. Common trigger foods include wheat, seafood, meat, poultry, and nuts. This allergy is more severe when combined with certain medications or alcohol consumption.

The prevalence of adult food allergies is estimated to be increasing, with a significant financial burden on healthcare systems. In the US alone, the annual financial burden of food allergies is estimated to be $24 billion. Despite the severity of adult food allergies, many affected individuals do not carry adrenaline auto-injector pens, which are essential for managing severe allergic reactions. It is crucial for adults with food allergies to have a management plan in place and to seek guidance from medical professionals.

Adult-onset food allergies are a growing concern, with a wide range of triggers and symptoms. Understanding the causes and prevalence of these allergies is essential for effective management and prevention. If you suspect you have developed a food allergy as an adult, consult with your healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.


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