Food Allergy Facts and Figures - From Kids with Food Allergies and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

May is Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month

What Is a Food Allergy?

  • A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system sees a certain food as harmful and reacts by causing symptoms. This is an allergic reaction.
  • Foods that cause allergic reactions are called allergens.
  • Allergic reactions can involve the skin, mouth, eyes, lungs, heart, gut, and brain.
  • Mild and severe symptoms can lead to a serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis [anna-fih-LACK-sis]. This reaction usually involves more than one part of the body and can worsen quickly.
  • Anaphylaxis must be treated right away with epinephrine to provide the best chance for improvement and prevent serious, potentially life-threatening complications.

How Common Are Food Allergies?

  • As of 2021, about 20 million people have food allergies in the U.S.
    • About 16 million (6.2%) U.S. adults have food allergies.
    • About 4 million (5.8%) U.S. children have food allergies.
  • In 2021, 7.6% of non-Hispanic Black children had food allergies, compared to 5.5% of non-Hispanic white children.
    • Food allergy has increased among U.S. children over the past 20 years, with the greatest increase in Black children.
  • Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have asthma or other allergic diseases.

What Are the Most Frequent Food Allergens?

  • Nine foods cause most food allergy reactions in the United States:

 o Milk

o Egg

o Peanut

o Tree nut (for example, almonds, walnut, pecans, cashews, pistachios)

o Wheat

o Sesame

o Soy

o Fish (for example, bass, flounder, cod)

o Shellfish (for example, crab, shrimp, scallop, clams)

  • Sesame is a rising food allergy. It impacts an estimated 1 million people in the United States.6 It was declared a major allergen in the United States in 2021.

What Is Anaphylaxis?

  • Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Not all allergic reactions are anaphylaxis.
  • Symptoms of anaphylaxis usually involve more than one part of the body such as the skin, mouth, eyes, lungs, heart, gut, and brain.
  • Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include:
    • Skin: hives (often very itchy), flushed skin, or rash
    • Mouth: swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat; tingling or itchy feeling in the mouth
    • Lungs: shortness of breath, trouble breathing, coughing, or wheezing o Heart: dizziness, lightheadedness, loss of consciousness, low blood pressure, shock o Stomach: cramps, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Each year in the U.S., it is estimated that anaphylaxis to food results in 90,000 emergency room visits.
    • From 2006-2015, emergency room visits from food-induced anaphylaxis in infants and toddlers more than doubled

How Are Food Allergies Managed and Treated?

  • Although new treatments are being developed, there is currently no cure for food allergies.
  • Not eating the food allergen is the primary way to prevent a reaction.
  • People with food allergies should carefully read food ingredient labels and always ask about ingredients before eating food prepared by other people.
  • Epinephrine is the first line of treatment for anaphylaxis.
  • People with food allergies should always have epinephrine with them.
  • If a person is having anaphylaxis, they should:
    • Follow their Anaphylaxis Action Plan
    •  Use their epinephrine
    •  Get emergency medical care to ensure symptoms resolve

 Are Food Allergies Outgrown?

  • Milk, egg, wheat, and soy allergies are often outgrown. Most people do not outgrow peanut, tree nut, fish, and shellfish allergies.