Half Adults Who Claim Food Allergy Don’t Have One

Researchers found that 19 percent of those surveyed thought they had a food allergy. But when the investigators dug into people’s symptoms, they found that only 10.8 percent reported “convincing” signs of a true allergy. Experts said the findings highlight two important facts: Food allergies are common among U.S. adults, and many mistakenly believe they have one.

“There are many misconceptions around reactions to food,” said lead researcher Dr. Ruchi Gupta, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University, in Chicago. According to Gupta, it can be easy for people to assume food-related symptoms signal an allergy. But other conditions can be the real culprit, she said.

People with true allergies have an immune system reaction against proteins in a particular food. Those reactions, Gupta explained, can sometimes be severe — including life-threatening breathing difficulties or drops in blood pressure.

So it’s critical to get an accurate diagnosis, she noted.

Dr. Wayne Shreffler, a medical advisor to the non-profit Food Allergy Research & Education, agreed.

“Sometimes people think, ‘What difference does it make? If the food makes me feel bad, I’ll avoid it,'” Shreffler said.

But people with a true allergy need to completely eliminate the offending food from their diet — and they should get professional guidance on how to do that, he suggested.

They should also get a prescription for epinephrine, Shreffler said. The drug, given by auto-injector, treats severe allergic reactions in an emergency. On the flip side, food avoidance can be very challenging — so people without an allergy should not do it unnecessarily, he added. What other conditions can cause food-related woes? One possibility, Gupta said, is a food intolerance — such as difficulty digesting lactose, a sugar in milk.

  • Food allergies and food intolerances are not the same, but they’re sometimes confused for one another.
  • A food intolerance is when someone has trouble digesting a certain food, leading to symptoms like gas or abdominal pain.
  • A food allergy is when the body’s immune system overreacts to certain foods.
  • Unlike an intolerance, a food allergy can cause serious or life-threatening reactions, even if the allergic person eats a microscopic amount of the food, touches it, or inhales it.

Food intolerances are not the same as food allergies, but it seems a lot of people mistake one for the other.

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