Have you ever had an unexpected reaction to food? Adult-onset allergy is a possibility.
When you bite into an apple, your mouth begins to tingle. Alternatively, you may have prawns for dinner and break out in hives.
What gives? You’re not a child, and you’ve always been able to consume these foods, so what’s the deal?
A variety of illnesses could be to blame, but one of the most common is adult-onset food allergies. After reaching maturity, you can develop allergies, which can be severe.
Researchers aren’t sure why some people develop allergies to certain foods when they reach adulthood, but there are a few suggestions about what causes it and how to treat it.
Dr. Ruchi Gupta, director of the Center for Food Allergy and Asthma at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said, “There are so many food conditions, and it’s so important to really understand what you have because you want to know how to manage it, and some of them actually have treatments.”
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, more than 50 million Americans have food allergies, which occur when a person’s immune system overreacts to something in a food (ACAAI).
According to Gupta’s own research, around 10% of adults fall into this category. Some allergies started in childhood, but roughly half of them started as adults. In a 2019 study of 40,000 adults, about 38% said they had a severe food reaction that led them to the emergency department.
While you can be allergic to anything, peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, shellfish, finfish, soy, wheat, and sesame account for 90% of food allergies.
Shellfish allergy is the most frequent among adults, affecting over 3% of the population, according to Gupta.
Life throws a wrench in the works.
A change in environment is one of several explanations experts have identified for developing allergies in adulthood, despite the fact that allergies tend to run in families. Perhaps you’ve relocated and are now exposed to new allergens that stimulate your immune system.
A viral or bacterial illness might also cause the switch to be flipped.
Hormones, particularly in women, can act as a catalyst. Food allergies are not uncommon during adolescence, pregnancy, or menopause.
“We don’t exactly understand the mechanism, but it could have something to do with changes in our hormones,” said Dr. Tania Elliott, an ACAAI spokesman and faculty member at NYU Langone Health in New York City.
During different times of their menstrual cycles, some women’s allergic systems may deteriorate, she noted.
Another probable culprit, according to Elliott, is that some drugs or alcohol might alter stomach pH, causing the body to stop breaking down specific meals as efficiently as it formerly did.
This sets off an IgE-mediated immunological response, which Elliott defines as “a fancy phrase for our body reacting abnormally to something that happens naturally in the environment.”
This natural reaction causes the body to release substances such as histamine, which can cause itching, redness, swelling, and blood vessel dilation, according to Elliott.
Skin rashes, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and dilated blood vessels are all symptoms of allergies. Anaphylaxis is a potentially fatal allergic reaction. Your doctor may advise you to keep epinephrine on hand so that you can immediately treat this potentially fatal reaction.
An allergist can assist with the diagnosis.
Food intolerance is a unique condition. Bloating, weariness and other pain are possible symptoms, which may appear days later rather than minutes or hours later. If you have those symptoms, Elliott recommends keeping a food journal for two weeks and then having it analyzed by a doctor. This could lead to an elimination diet to find the source of the problem.
Oral allergy syndrome is a condition that causes some people’s mouths to tingle after biting into a fresh apple.
If you’re allergic to tree pollen, for example, you can have an allergic reaction to the tree’s fruit. You may get a rash or hives on your tongue in addition to the tingling feeling. It’s unlikely to induce anaphylaxis, and you might be able to resume eating the dish, according to Gupta.
“It’s critical to speak with your allergist and make sure you understand what’s going on,” she advised because heating the dish might sometimes minimize the reaction.
However, this is not the case for people who have a severe allergic reaction.
“Those are the ones where you have to entirely avoid that allergen,” Gupta said, emphasizing the importance of obtaining a medical diagnosis.
Food allergies affect 10% of individuals, but about 20% of those in Gupta’s study suspected they had them. Many people may have just had a food sensitivity, such as the lactose in milk. In Gupta’s survey, about 1 in 20 people said they were looking for a diagnosis.
“Adult-onset food allergy—particularly with subsequent anaphylaxis—is an essential phenomena to notice, even when individuals have previously tolerated the food in question,” according to a small Canadian study of 14 patients.
If you have a suspected allergic reaction to a food that isn’t severe enough to warrant a trip to the ER, Elliott recommends photographing your reaction alongside the food, including any spices used in the dish, and sharing the images with your doctor.
This is because spice allergies are on the rise. Your doctor can undertake targeted testing of the suspected dish’s precise ingredients, she said.
Don’t be discouraged if you enjoy crab or nuts and find yourself unable to consume them. Gupta stated that treatments are on their way.
For youngsters with peanut allergies, the US Food and Drug Administration has already approved oral immunotherapy. While it isn’t currently approved for adults, Gupta believes it will be soon.
Biologic medicines that change a portion of the immunological pathway that triggers a reaction are also being evaluated in ongoing clinical trials.
“I just want everyone to know that there is hope right now that we will have cures for food allergies in the next five to ten years,” Gupta added.