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Cow’s milk, egg, and peanut allergies are among the most prevalent food allergies reported in infants and children while crustacean shellfish, peanut, tree nut, and fish allergies are commonly reported in adults.
The perceived prevalence of food allergy reported by American consumers is often higher than the actual prevalence since many consumers do not differentiate IgE-mediated food allergy from other food sensitivity reactions or foodborne illnesses.
An interactive consumer survey reported that in 2007, 1 in 5 American households believe that at least one individual in the family had a food allergy. IgE-mediated food allergies affect an estimated 6 - 8% of infants and children and 2.0 – 3.0% of adults in the United States. The overall prevalence of food allergy in the U.S. is estimated to affect 3.5 – 4.0% of the population. These estimates are based primarily upon published telephone surveys conducted by the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) and the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
Infants and young children are more likely to develop IgE-mediated food allergies than are older children and adults. However, many of the affected young children will outgrow their food allergies in early childhood within a few months to several years after the onset of the food allergy. Some estimates suggest that 80-90% of food-allergic children are able to tolerate the offending food by 3 years of age.
Allergies to some commonly allergenic foods are more likely to be outgrown than are allergies to other foods. For example, milk, egg, soybean and wheat allergies appear to be commonly outgrown. In contrast, peanut allergy appears to be much more persistent with only about 20% of peanut-allergic children outgrowing peanut allergy by adulthood. The mechanisms involved in the loss of sensitivity to specific foods are not precisely known, but the development of immunological tolerance is definitely involved.
Cow’s milk, egg, and peanut allergies are among the most prevalent food allergies reported in infants and children while crustacean shellfish, peanut, tree nut, and fish allergies are commonly reported in adults (Table 1). Tolerance to food allergens such as cow’s milk and egg in many infants is achieved by the age of 5.
However, peanut, fish, and tree nut allergies tend to persist into adulthood with very few infants gaining tolerance to these allergens.
|Table 1. Prevalence of Food Allergies in the United States|
Adapted from: Sampson HA. 2004. Update on Food Allergy. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 113:805-819.