The Most Common Food Allergy In Adults

The number of food allergies seems to be endlessly growing, with FDA labeling menus and school lunch contents alongside. Allergic reactions to certain foods have been documented going back thousands of years, but it wasn't until the 1960s that scientists discovered the "why" behind the mysterious responses (via GoodRx Health).

While some people avoid certain foods, like gluten or dairy, because they cause undesirable side effects or make them feel unwell, there is a significant difference between a food sensitivity or intolerance and an outright allergy. According to Healthline, food intolerance usually affects the digestive system, and the side effects are less serious. They're typically due to an inability to digest the food or a sensitivity to something it contains. Allergies, on the other hand, can cause severe reactions and can even be life-threatening. Your body initiates an immune attack against a protein in the offending food.

As of now, there is no cure for food allergies, and the only option is to avoid the food. Allergies can start in childhood or emerge in adulthood, and sometimes they just inexplicably disappear altogether. There are 32 million Americans with food allergies navigating menus and perusing grocery stores with care. Ninety percent of those allergies are to eight major groups: dairy, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish, with the FDA adding a ninth group, sesame, effective in January 2023. Peanut and tree nut allergies have been rapidly growing amongst children, but what takes the top spot for adults?

Of all the fish in the sea

Shellfish is the most common food allergy in adults and is also common in children, affecting 2% of the U.S. population, according to FARE. The shellfish umbrella includes the families of crustaceans and mollusks such as shrimp, crabs, lobster, squid, oysters, mussels, clams, octopus, scallops, and snails. Fish with fins do not fall under the umbrella. Shrimp is the most popular offender of the bunch amongst both adults and children. An allergy to shellfish is usually lifelong — meaning no miraculous disappearance occurs. However, 60% of those who develop an allergy to shellfish do so in adulthood.

Some people react to all shellfish, while others are only bothered by one variety, and reactions range from mild to severe. Symptoms may be immediate or have a delayed onset of up to an hour. Reactions include itchy skin, congestion, swelling of the lips, tongue, and other parts of the body, trouble breathing or wheezing, vomiting, and dizziness, amongst others. The most severe reaction is anaphylaxis, which is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment (via Mayo Clinic).