Food Allergies Can Happen at Any Age

Katherine Cork's picture
By Katherine Cork on December 20, 2017

While more than 50 million Americans have an allergy of some kind, food allergies affect only 4 to 6 percent of children and 4 percent of adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
 
“You often hear about food allergies in children, but allergies can happen at any age,” said Dr. Aneysa Sane, M.D., with the Allergy & Immunology department at Carilion Clinic. “You can even become allergic to something that you were once able to eat with no problem.”
 
The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology describes a food allergy as what happens when your immune system overreacts to a food (or something in food), identifying it as a danger and triggering a protective response.
 
In younger children, the most common food allergies are to milk, wheat, eggs and nuts, and eczema is a common symptom. Children also may outgrow their food allergy.
 
Older children and adults can also have food allergies to anything from tree nuts to shellfish, which can cause throat or mouth itching, nausea, diarrhea, hives and in severe cases, swelling in the throat within two hours of eating.
 
Food intolerance can sometimes be confused with food allergies. Maybe when you eat dairy, your stomach hurts. Or when you have bread, you feel bloated.
 
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says the difference is that an allergy involves a reaction by your immune system, whereas an intolerance is usually caused by your body not being able to digest a certain food properly.
 
“The most accurate way to tell if you have an allergy to a specific food is with what is called a skin prick test,” said Dr. Sane. “It is performed by an allergy specialist and involves a tiny amount of food allergens being placed on your skin to see if there is a reaction.”
 
The best treatment for an allergy is to avoid the foods that cause a reaction. If you have a severe allergy, it is also important to carry an Epipen at all times in case you accidentally ingest or come into contact with the food you are allergic to.
 
“Allergies can get worse, so it’s a good idea to get tested if you have a reaction to a certain food,” said Dr. Sane. “If you have a mild reaction once, it’s possible that the next time the reaction will be severe.”
 
If you think you or your child may have a food allergy, make an appointment with an allergist and be tested to find out for sure.