Food News

Why You Can Still Develop Food Allergies as an Adult

by:
August 10, 2017

If you have children, you know that protecting them against food allergies is a big concern these days. Such a big concern that doctors recommend treatment against allergies start in utero. (Current research suggests expectant mothers load up on peanuts five times a week or more during pregnancy in order to prevent the very common peanut allergy.)

In total, there are eight “big” food allergies that parents and doctors look out for, according to FARE, the Food Allergy Research & Education organization: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish. Some, like milk, eggs, and wheat, are commonly shed in childhood. But others, like peanuts, tend to stick around.

But while most of the allergy research in the United States has focused on how it affects children (approximately eight percent of children deal with food allergies, compared to five percent of adults), researchers have spent years parsing together anecdotal evidence of another issue altogether: adult-onset food allergies.

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Until recently, researchers knew little about the true prevalence of adult food allergies, but thanks to the data collected by a new national study, we now know that more than half of adults in the US with food allergies got them after they turned 18. For adults, shellfish is the most common allergen (3.9 percent), followed by peanuts (2.4 percent), and tree nuts (1.9 percent)

In a representative sample of 40,447 adults across the US, nearly 52 percent of subjects fell victim to what the paper’s lead researcher, pediatrician and allergy specialist Dr. Ruchi Gupta, calls the “turn-on switch.” What’s more, adults appear to have unique methods of developing allergies that children don’t, such as oral allergy syndrome (OAS), which makes your throat or mouth itchy when eating certain types of produce, mostly fruit. As Dr. Sharon Chinthrajah, an allergy researcher involved in the study, explained to The New York Times, oral allergy syndrome typically affects adult sufferers of seasonal allergies and “involves your body getting tricked” by the similarity in protein structures between allergens. For instance, someone with an allergy to birch tree pollen might develop an allergic reaction when they eat certain fruits, like cherries, peaches, and apples, simply because the proteins are structurally similar—though OAS is not the same thing as a true food allergy, which may be life-threatening. Chinthrajah also notes a key distinction between food allergies and food intolerance, the latter of which is not as well-understood. Allergic reactions show up within two hours of eating the offending food, while symptoms of food intolerance show up the next day.

I can, unfortunately, attest to the very real phenomenon of adult-onset allergies, which I suddenly had to apples, peaches, and citrus fruit right after college. If the same is true for any of you, take heart. Although you should stay away from any allergy-inducing produce in their raw form, you can, in some cases, eliminate an OAS reaction by cooking or processing the fruit in question, which sometimes (if you're lucky!) denatures the triggering protein. Bake, jam, and jelly your heart out!

11 Comments

BerryBaby August 14, 2017
It happened to me over 2 years ago with wine. Thought I was dying! And it was not sulfites but the grapes and chemicals they use. Went to an allergist and have not had not and will never drink wine again. Worst experience ever!
 
Nelly August 13, 2018
I developed wine allergy three months ago. Still waiting for an appointment with the allergist. Hope I will be able to drink wine again some day as I have a huge wine collection at home.
 
Gina D. August 12, 2017
Adult onset allergies to shellfish almost killed me when I had a ct scan with a dye injection. Although I'm now in my fifties I seem to still be developing reactions to foods that I could previously eat without problem. Blueberries are the most recent. 😕
 
Alana F. August 11, 2017
What you describe in regards to cooking produce to denature the proteins is true for oral allergy syndrome but NOT of a true food allergy. Your information is erroneous, misleading, misinformed, and potentially dangerous.
 
t August 11, 2017
you should try taking a zyrtec or another allergy pill before eating apples or peaches, works for me!
 
rls August 11, 2017
I think cooking actually caused my food allergy. I made a Ming Tsai recipe with pineapple, mango, papaya, cranberries, and sambal oelek as a sweet and sour sauce (i can't find the recipe anymore). Nothing unusual happened. A few weeks later i used the sambal in another recipe and within a few hours my lips and the inside of my mouth were covered in blisters! I thought the sambal went bad and tossed it and bought more and had the same reaction so i thought i had developed a new allergy to sambal. A few weeks later i had Mango and Sticky Rice at my local Thai place and the blisters were back! Pineapple seems to be ok in moderation, but if i eat more than a few bites of mango or papaya in a short period of time, it continues to affect me. I stopped eating sambal as sriracha is similar enough and doesn't bother me. Such a bummer to develop allergies as an adult.
 
LM August 10, 2017
Cooking the fruit doesn't work for everyone. I still get the same allergic reaction.
 
EC August 10, 2017
It is incorrect that cooking produce negates the allergic reaction. In such cases, the person is not allergic to the produce itself, but to an enzyme that is killed by cooking. But many people are actually allergic to the fruit - and cooking will not change that. Just because someone has allergies doesn't make them an expert, and this is dispensing dangerous / erroneous medical advice without a license. It is irresponsible of Food52 to publish this.
 
EC August 10, 2017
It is incorrect that cooking produce negates the allergic reaction. In such cases, the person is not allergic to the produce itself, but to an enzyme that is killed by cooking. But many people are actually allergic to the fruit - and cooking will not change that. Just because someone has allergies doesn't make them an expert, and this is dispensing dangerous / erroneous medical advice without a license. It is irresponsible of Food52 to publish this.
 
lilroseglow August 10, 2017
My ex-husband developed an allergy to crab and lobster (but not shrimp) after an "all you can eat crab legs" night while on vacation at the NC beach. That night, he developed severe itching and swelled up like crazy - hands, feet, face, and throat. He looked like a red Frankenstein with a bulging forehead. About a year later, he tasted my entree of flounder stuffed with crab and had an even worse reaction - we ended up at the emergency room because his throat was swelling shut.
 
mizerychik August 10, 2017
Unfortunately, some people are still allergic to produce even after it is cooked. Nightshades often fall into this category, and there is a small but growing population of almond allergic people that are becoming anaphylactic to other stone fruits in the same family. The ways in which the immune system can go haywire are varied. <br /><br />I'm sorry you have to deal with this too; I've been a peanut/tree nut anaphylactic since I was an infant, and it is deeply stressful and annoying.