Study offers hard data on food allergies

May 31, 2017, Brigham and Women's Hospital

Anecdotal evidence of food allergies abounds, but just how common are these allergies and intolerances? In a new study, investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital combed through medical records from more than 2.7 million patients, identifying more than 97,000 with one or more documented food allergy or intolerance. Their findings are published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

"Recent reports suggest that allergies are on the rise, with more related hospitalizations in the U.S. over the last decade. However, many studies have been based on telephone surveys or have focused on a specific food allergen or allergen group," said Li Zhou, MD, PhD, of the Division of General Medicine Primary Care at BWH. "We recognized that the electronic health record system could offer a treasure trove of information about allergies to better understand which populations may be most affected and just how common food allergies and intolerances are in the U.S."

Some of the team's findings include:

  • Food or intolerance were documented for 3.6 percent of the population studied
  • Shellfish was the most commonly reported food allergy
  • The highest rates of food allergies or intolerance were among females and Asians

The multidisciplinary team, including a medical student, Warren Acker; an allergist, Kimberly Blumenthal, MD, MSc; patient safety experts and informaticians, used food and allergy intolerance data collected at Partners HealthCare between 2000 and 2013, including information from multiple community and specialty hospitals as well as community health centers. The team examined data on culprit foods, reaction(s) to that allergen, date/time of the reaction and more. The research team used the term "food allergies and intolerances" to include any adverse reaction to food (such as hives, anaphylaxis, shortness of breath, wheezing, itching, swelling and more) as well as pseudoallergic reactions, intolerances and even food preferences reported in the .

The team looked at a variety of food allergens, finding that almost 13,000 patients had a reported allergy or intolerance to peanut, including more than 7,000 (56.5 percent) who had hives, anaphylaxis, or other potentially IgE-mediated reactions. To better understand the validity of the food allergy data they examined, they looked at specific antibodies produced in response to peanut via the radioallergosorbent test (RAST) or ImmunoCAP test for all patients who reported a .

The overall rate of allergy prevalence that the team found—3.6 percent—is consistent with previous estimates using oral food challenges.

The team also notes that food allergies are quite common but there are fewer than 7,000 allergists/immunologists in the United States; these data suggest the U.S. doesn't have the capacity to evaluate/confirm allergies for all patients who initially test positive (only 1 in 5 with a peanut allergy received follow up allergy testing). Food allergies are estimated to cost the U.S. $25 billion annually.

Explore further: Moms and dads of kids with food allergies think they're allergic too

More information: Acker WW et al. "Prevalence of food allergies and intolerances documented in electronic health records" Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2017.04.006

Related Stories

Moms and dads of kids with food allergies think they're allergic too

October 12, 2016
When testing for food allergies, allergists often ask about family history. If your parents have food allergies, the chances are higher that you too will have them. Problem is, not everyone who reports a food allergy actually ...

Are tree nut allergies diagnosed too often?

March 27, 2017
Many patients with a history of a single tree nut allergy are told to avoid all other tree nuts. But is that necessary? If you have a tree nut allergy and were advised to avoid other tree nuts based only on a positive blood ...

Diagnosing and managing food allergies: A guide for physicians

September 6, 2016
A new review aims to help physicians diagnose and manage food allergies in children and adults. The article, published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) looks at recent evidence from guidelines, randomized controlled ...

Helping keep children with food allergies safe

May 1, 2017
Beginning in the mid-1990s, doctors began to see a rise in food allergies among children. On average, 2 to 8 percent of children today have a food allergy, said Dr. Alice Hoyt, a University of Virginia Health System allergist.

Study shows siblings of kids with food allergies aren't necessarily also allergic

November 5, 2015
If one child in a family has a food allergy, the reasoning sometimes goes, chances are good that siblings might also have food allergies. Not necessarily, according to new research which shows that 53 percent of siblings ...

Food allergies linked to raised risk of asthma, hay fever

September 14, 2016
(HealthDay)—Children with food allergies are at increased risk for asthma and hay fever, and the risk rises with the number of food allergies, new research shows.

Recommended for you

Eczema drug effective against severe asthma

May 21, 2018
Two new studies of patients with difficult-to-control asthma show that the eczema drug dupilumab alleviates asthma symptoms and improves patients' ability to breathe better than standard therapies. Dupilumab, an injectable ...

Neuron guidance factor found to play a key role in immune cell function

May 21, 2018
Macrophages are white blood cells involved in a variety of biological functions, from destroying infectious pathogens to repairing damaged tissue. To carry out their different roles, macrophages must first be activated and ...

Immune cells hold promise in slowing down ALS

May 21, 2018
Recent research from Houston Methodist Hospital showed that a new immunotherapy was safe for patients with ALS and also revealed surprising results that could bring hope to patients who have this relentlessly progressive ...

First clues to the causes of multiple sclerosis

May 16, 2018
Multiple sclerosis, which affects one in 1,000 people, is frequently characterised by relapses associated with variable functional impairments including among others vision problems, impairment of locomotor functions or difficulties ...

A high-fiber diet protects mice against the flu virus

May 15, 2018
Dietary fiber increases survival in influenza-infected mice by setting the immune system at a healthy level of responsiveness, according to a preclinical study published May 15th in the journal Immunity. A high-fiber diet ...

Study finds that different diseases elicit distinct sets of exhausted T cells

May 15, 2018
The battle between the human immune system and long-term, persisting infections and other chronic diseases such as cancer results in a prolonged stalemate. Over time battle-weary T cells become exhausted, giving germs or ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.