Not Just For Kids: Adult Onset Food Allergy


Adults may adventurously try a new food or enjoy a familiar one, and be surprised by a sudden scratchy throat, swelling around the mouth, or hives.

While food allergy onset is less common after the age of 18, it does occur in people of all ages. Most research has focused on allergies in children, but scientists have collected some data related to adult onset food allergy.

Adult Onset: Ten Points of Interest

  1. Many children outgrow their food allergy, but adult onset allergies tend to persist. In children and adults, food allergies are more common in those who have another allergy such as eczema, asthma, or allergic rhinitis. Adults, like children, can have anaphylaxctic reactions to an allergen.
  2. A recent food allergy study suggests about 15 percent of first reactions occur after age 18, and the greatest number of adult first reactions happen during the early 30s.
  3. Treatment statistics indicate that the older people are when first reactive, the higher their risk for severe reactions. However, older individuals might have other health issues (e.g., heart problems, high blood pressure) influencing their decision to get medical attention.
  4. The most common adult food allergies are to fish and crustaceans such as shrimps, crabs, and mollusks, followed closely by allergies to tree nuts, peanut, and soy. However, adults are allergic to a greater variety of foods than kids, likely because they have exposure to more food types. For instance, adults might be allergic to uncommon foods such as dragonfruit or mung beans.
  5. Adults may react to a new food containing a protein similar to a food they are already sensitized or allergic to.
  6. Some researchers blame genes for adult onset allergies, while others suspect stress, viruses, environmental toxins, antibiotics, hormonal changes (e.g., menopause), systemic inflammation, our antibacterial lifestyle - or a combination of these factors.
  7. Some adult onset reactions are to dust mites that can germinate in flour being stored improperly.
  8. Teens, young, and older adults may experience exercise-induced food allergy. Their reactions occur only if they exercise within two to four hours of eating a certain food, often wheat, or shellfish.
  9. Some people have non-allergic reactions to Chinese food. The additive MSG is the suspected but unproven culprit in what is called the Chinese restaurant syndrome. Symptoms include headache, chest pain, tingling or numbness around the mouth, swelling, and sweating.
  10. Adults can develop a gluten allergy, but this is usually seen in those with celiac disease, where the immune system attacks the small intestine’s lining after gluten is consumed.

Sources: Health XChange; Food Allergy; Allergic Living; Daily Mail Photo credit: The Food Place