You May Not Have A Food Allergy After All, New Study Finds

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Food allergies are on the rise. But are they as common as we think? A new study, published in JAMA Network Open, showed that over 10 percent of adults in the United States are estimated to have a food allergy. Interestingly, however, about 19 percent of adults think they are currently allergic to at least one food.

So how do you explain this discrepancy? According to the study's authors, people are likely confused about what the symptoms of a true food allergy are. According to the Mayo Clinic, these symptoms include:

  • Tingling or itching in the mouth
  • Hives, itching, or eczema
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, and throat or other parts of the body
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Wheezing, nasal congestion, or trouble breathing

It's likely that many of the 40,000 adults surveyed for the study were describing food intolerances or digestive issues related to certain foods instead of a life-threatening allergy that has been confirmed by a doctor. According to the Cleveland Clinic, symptoms of a food intolerance include:

"While we found that one in 10 adults have food allergy, nearly twice as many adults think that they are allergic to foods, while their symptoms may suggest food intolerance or other food-related conditions," explained the lead author of the study, Ruchi Gupta, M.D., MPH. And despite the fact that food sensitivities can greatly affect quality of life and cause a lot of suffering—especially when they go undiagnosed—they are not a reason to have to carry epinephrine with you at all times.

So what are the most common food allergies? According the study, the rankings are as follows:

  • Shellfish (affecting 7.2 million adults)
  • Peanuts (4.5 million)
  • Tree nut (3 million)
  • Fin fish (2.2 million)
  • Egg (2 million)
  • Wheat (2 million)
  • Soy (1.5 million)
  • Sesame (0.5 million)

Moving forward, it's important to know the difference between food allergies and food sensitivities—and do the work to figure out which one applies to you and your symptoms.

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