Can you get food allergies as an adult? In short, yes. Up to 5% of adults suffer from food allergy, and approximately 15% of them developed the allergy in adulthood (1).
What is food allergy?
Food allergy is an abnormal reaction of the immune system to an ingested food. The most common types of allergens are cow’s milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, sesame, fish, shellfish and lupin (2). You can read more about food allergy, intolerance and preference in this article.
Common food allergies in adults
The foods most likely to cause allergic reactions in adults are seafood, peanuts, tree nuts (1, 2) and sesame seeds (2).
The most common food allergy in adults is oral allergy syndrome which happens when raw fruits, vegetables or nuts get in contact with the mouth and throat. Symptoms are normally mild and can be avoided by cooking foods prior to eating (1).
Seafood is the second most common food allergy in adults, affecting between 1 to 2% of this population. It has been reported that 40 to 60% of seafood allergies develop in adulthood (1).
Demographics and causes
Some studies suggest that most of people who develop food allergies as adults are in their early 30s, but it can happen at any age. It seems, too, that almost two thirds of these people are female (3).
It is also interesting to note that more people suffer from allergies in general now compared to past generations. The most likely explanation is the hygiene hypothesis, which points at our obsession with sanitation as the culprit for an altered microbiome, and therefore dysfunctional immune system.
In fact, scientists have found that our gut bacteria play important roles in our susceptibility to food allergy. These include the modulation of allergen response pathways and intestinal barrier integrity. They have also pointed at the lack of dietary fibre as a factor for developing allergies. This is because dietary fibre is fermented by gut microbes to produce short-chain fatty acids, which are fuel for the cells in our colon (3).
Can you get food allergies as an adult?
In summary yes, you can develop food allergies at any stage of life. However, this is not a life sentence, as food allergies can and do go away for some people. Moreover, given that the gut microbiome is involved in the genesis and/or mechanisms of food allergies, it is reasonable to think that these can resolve by improving gut health.
You can find more information about food allergy and intolerance on the following sites:
- Iweala OI, Choudhary SK, Commins SP. Food Allergy. Current gastroenterology reports. 2018;20(5):17.
- Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy. Food Allergy Clinical Update for Dietitians. 2016.
- Kamdar TA, Peterson S, Lau CH, Saltoun CA, Gupta RS, Bryce PJ. Prevalence and characteristics of adult-onset food allergy. The journal of allergy and clinical immunology In practice. 2015;3(1):114-5.e1.
- Blázquez AB, Berin MC. Microbiome and Food Allergy. Translational research : the journal of laboratory and clinical medicine. 2017;179:199-203.