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An estimated 32 million Americans have food allergies, with 5.6 million of those being children under 18 years old. That breaks down to one in every 13 children and one in every ten adults having a diagnosable allergy to one or more foods. Over 170 are known to cause allergic reactions, but here are the most common food allergies.
Peanuts are a part of the legumes family and are not nuts. They are the most talked-about food allergy and have gained their reputation for producing severe anaphylactic reactions in many of those who are allergic. Most people who have a peanut allergy will carry an epinephrine auto-injector, which can provide life-saving treatment in case of exposure.
Severe reactions can occur even with mild cross-contamination, such as eating food produced in a facility that handles peanuts or touching someone who has eaten food containing peanuts. Most peanut allergies are lifelong, and only 15 to 22% of children might outgrow them, or their reaction to exposures could downgrade.
Infants and young children are commonly allergic to cow’s milk, but also adults. Studies done in 2018 and 2019 found that approximately 6.1 million Americans of all ages had convincing symptoms of an allergy to milk. A reaction may involve the skin (rash, hives, swelling), digestive system (nausea, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting), or in severe reactions, it may impair the ability to breathe (coughing, shortness of breath, or wheezing), thus becoming life-threatening. Everyone reacts to it differently, as some people can tolerate milk in baked goods, and others experience adverse reactions to milk in any form.
A cow’s milk allergy is different from lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance involves difficulty digesting lactose and usually results in digestive upset and less severe symptoms. In contrast, a true dairy allergy can result in hives, skin problems, severe constipation, and in rare cases, anaphylaxis.
There are many alternatives available for someone who has a milk allergy, such as soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, and rice milk.
An egg allergy is prominent in children and also one that they can outgrow. An adverse reaction is typically in response to the white of the egg, but most people must avoid the yolk as well. A typical allergic reaction to eggs can cause hives, inflamed nasal passages, vomiting, and even anaphylaxis. Over-the-counter antihistamine medications can help relieve mild allergy symptoms, but avoiding eggs and food containing egg and egg products is the only way to stay safe.
In rare cases, children with egg allergies can be susceptible to cross-contact and reactions from non-food sources, like certain vaccines that contain egg protein.
Reactions to tree nuts can be as severe as peanut allergies. A tree nut allergy means you must avoid any nut that grows on trees. Symptoms usually start straight after eating the nut. They include a rash (hives or “nettle” rash), swelling of the lips or around the eyes, and itch. Some children have an itchy throat; others feel sick or vomit. Severe reactions can affect breathing.
Wheat is a common childhood allergy, and in some cases, can be outgrown before reaching adulthood. A wheat allergy rarely results in an anaphylactic reaction, but it can in some cases. Many people who are allergic to wheat have celiac disease, which means they must find gluten-free alternatives.
Wheat can also appear in surprising places, so it is always advisable to read all food labels.
Although soybeans are legumes and in the same family as peanuts, the two allergies aren’t always linked. Soy allergy is more common in young children and babies. Most children will outgrow a soy allergy by age ten. Allergic reactions are typically mild but also can be unpredictable. Anaphylaxis reactions to soy are rare.
When an allergic person is exposed to soy, proteins in the soy bind to specific Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies made by the person’s immune system. As a result, the person’s immune defenses get triggered, leading to reaction symptoms that can be mild or very severe.
Adults are most commonly allergic to shellfish. Approximately 60% of people allergic to shellfish have their first allergic reaction as adults. There are two groups of shellfish: crustaceans and mollusks. Allergy to crustaceans (e.g., shrimp, crab, lobster) is more common than allergy to mollusks (e.g., clams, mussels, oysters).
Reactions can range from mild or very severe, as a person’s immune system is triggered by the proteins in the shellfish binding to specific IgE antibodies.
Seed allergies are not as common as the others listed above, but sesame allergies are on the rise and an increasing concern. Sensitivity to sesame seeds varies, but reactions have the potential to be severe, including anaphylaxis.
Sesame is very prevalent in everyday foods and can be difficult to avoid as it’s not currently required on food labels. Beginning January 1, 2023, sesame must be labeled in plain language on packaged foods in the U.S.
If unsafe food practices have caused harm to you or a loved one with food allergies (even one of the most common food allergies), you may be entitled to compensation. Discuss your options with a highly skilled food allergy lawyer in a free consultation today.
If you are at risk or know someone who can have a severe allergic reaction, prepare yourself by knowing what to do in case it occurs:
You must seek medical care immediately, even if you start to feel better. Symptoms can recur, and you may need other treatments, in addition to epinephrine.
If you have a food allergy, be careful about everything you eat and check ingredients on all food labels. However, beware of confusing food labels and double-check whether they saw “manufactured on shared equipment” or “may contain.” Stay away from any products with these labels if you have food allergies, and be extra cautious when buying food without any labels.
When preparing food, cross-contact can occur easily between the countertop, utensils, cookware, stovetop, and the oven. Cross-contact means an allergen directly or indirectly comes into contact with another food. For example, a spatula that touches a burger with cheese then a burger without cheese can indirectly cause contact with an allergen. Direct contact, for example, could be taking cheese off of a burger patty to make it a hamburger. If you must have allergenic foods in your kitchen, organize separate food preparation areas, cook allergy-safe foods first, cover them, wash your hands, scrub down counters and tables, and never share food.
Some people with food allergies may have to avoid an entire food group because of the risk of cross-reactivity. Cross-reactivity can occur when proteins in one food are similar to another food, which the immune system may identify as the same proteins and trigger an allergic reaction.