2016 Sep 6
By Korin Miller
Yup, you can suddenly get food allergies as an adult. Here are the signs to look out for, plus why you should never wait to seek help.
Most people assume that food allergies and intolerances are something you develop as a kid that may or may not stick with you throughout your life. But as it turns out, you can randomly develop food allergies as an adult, too.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, food allergy symptoms “can appear at any age” and impact up to 4 percent of adults. And, the organization adds, you can develop an allergy to foods you’ve eaten for years with no problem. But there’s a big difference between food intolerances, which typically only cause discomfort, and food allergies, which can lead to severe reactions, Dana S. Simpler, M.D., a Mercy Medical Center internist who specializes in nutrition, tells SELF.
Sometimes, these reactions can even be life-threatening: According to the Food and Drug Administration, approximately 30,000 Americans go to the ER each year to be treated for severe food allergies, and up to 200 Americans die each year due to allergic reactions to food.
“New-onset food allergies aren’t as common with adults as they are with children, but they’re definitely something that happens,” allergist Neeta Ogden, M.D., a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, tells SELF. Ogden says she sees shellfish, fish, and tree nut allergies the most with adults.
“People are really shocked that they’ve eaten shrimp forever and then find out they have an allergy,” Ogden says. “But food allergies are just like any medical condition—something decides to go haywire.” Experts don’t always know why someone will develop a food allergy as an adult, but Ogden says people with eczema, asthma, or seasonal allergies seem to be more prone than others.
In addition, many foods have cross-reacting antigens (foreign substances that causes an immune reaction in the body) that you can also inhale, like tree pollen, George Martin, M.D., campus chief of allergy and immunology at Lankenau Medical Center, part of Main Line Health, tells SELF. “Therefore, if patients have a significant tree allergy, they are more prone to develop allergic reactions to various tree products, including fruits and tree nuts,” he says.
While people with a food intolerance may have bloating or gas after eating a particular food, those with food allergies can have hives, itchiness, swelling of the lips and tongue, shortness of breath, coughing, vomiting, throat-tightening, a rash, and even anaphylactic shock, a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction, Simpler says.
Allergic reactions to food are “almost always sudden—they happen within minutes of eating a food,” Ogden says, noting that if you have severe symptoms like throat-tightening, it’s important to get to the ER right away.
Once you’re treated, she says it’s crucial to write down everything you ate before you had the reaction—even if you don’t think it was important. “That will help an allergist tremendously,” she says. It’s also important to make an appointment to see an allergist right away and get an EpiPen (and learn how to use it) if your reaction was bad enough to cause a trip to the ER. “[EpiPens] save people’s lives when there’s a severe food allergy reaction,” Ogden says.
And if you suspect that a certain food caused your reaction, Ogden says it’s important to avoid it until your allergist can confirm that it’s an issue (meaning, don’t play detective to try to figure it out yourself). Just don’t put off a trip to the doctor. “See an allergist immediately,” Ogden says. “You should never wait.”