While food allergies are a serious concern, nearly half of the people who think they’re food-allergic actually are not, a new study reveals.
According to findings published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, nearly one in five U.S. adults believes they’re allergic to at least one food, yet only one in 10 has an allergy.
“Consequently, these findings suggest that it is crucial that adults with suspected food allergy receive appropriate confirmatory testing and counseling to ensure food is not unnecessarily avoided and quality of life is not unduly impaired,” the study’s authors wrote.
Based on data from over 40,000 Americans, researchers from Northwestern University and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago found that over 50 per cent of food-allergic participants reported experiencing at least one severe reaction in their lifetime. Furthermore, 45 per cent were allergic to multiple foods.
Those who wrongly believed they had a food allergy did not exhibit symptoms that were consistent with their alleged allergy.
“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,” Dr. Ruchi Gupta, a professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and one of the study’s lead authors, told Forbes.
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The most common allergies in the study were shellfish, milk, peanut, tree nut and fin fish.
Among those with allergies, only around half of participants said their diagnosis was confirmed by a physician, and less than a quarter said they had a prescription for an EpiPen.
Over 2.6 million Canadians self-report having at least one food allergy, Food Allergy Canada reports. The most common allergies across the country are peanut, tree nut, seafood, egg, milk, sesame, soy, mustard and wheat, the organization says.
Food sensitivity tests have gained popularity in recent years, as has gluten-free products. Despite mainstream acceptance of modified diets, health experts warn against unnecessarily restricting or avoiding certain foods without consulting a doctor.
The study’s authors echoed this stance.
“The results of our study suggest that adults need to be encouraged to see their physicians to receive proper diagnosis, epinephrine prescription, and counseling for their food allergy.”