Food allergy concerns, especially among children, are a growing concern. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports the prevalence of a food allergy in children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.
Currently, 32 million Americans suffer from food allergies, or one in 10 adults and one in 13 children. Alarmingly, food allergy reactions send someone to the emergency every three minutes and approximately 200,000 people require emergency attention each year!
Statistics show food allergies are on the rise, especially in children, and are a potentially serious health concern. Read on to learn if growing out of a food allergy is possible and how it can happen.
What Is a Food Allergy?
Before jumping into whether or not food allergies can be outgrown, it is important to clarify what a food allergy actually is. A food allergy is often confused with and mistaken for an intolerance, though there are vast and significant differences between the two.
A food intolerance is predominately when the body lacks key enzymes to properly digest a food component and mainly affects the digestive system. For example, in the case of lactose intolerance, the enzyme lactase is deficient and ultimately causes unpleasant digestive symptoms.
Unlike a food intolerance, an allergy involves the immune system which identifies a food protein as an allergen, produces antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE), and triggers an immune reaction. Milk, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, wheat, soybeans, fish, and shellfish are the most common food allergens.
Following ingestion of the food, one may experience common allergy symptoms of swelling, itching, rash, hives, cramps, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. While both conditions should not be taken lightly, an allergic reaction to food can lead to anaphylactic shock and even death without immediate attention.
Can You Outgrow Food Allergies?
Simply stated, yes. But there is an interesting catch...
Unfortunately for those diagnosed with a food allergy in adulthood, the likelihood to outgrow a food allergy is rare. But for children, the presence of a food allergy may not be lifelong.
Based on a survey published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Clinical Immunology, a little more than a quarter of children outgrow allergies at an average age of 5.4 years old. Children are more likely to outgrow allergies to milk, eggs, or soy compared to peanuts, fish, or shrimp, and the earlier the child's first reaction, the more quickly they are usually able to outgrow the allergy.
Conversely, children displaying the most severe symptoms of a food allergy and diagnosed with multiple allergies were less likely to outgrow food allergies. Of all the food allergens, a peanut allergy is the most common, less likely to become outgrown, and tends to last a lifetime.
How Long Do Food Allergies Last?
If you speculate you or your child has outgrown a food allergy, it is critical to consult with an allergist to safeguard the risk of inducing anaphylactic shock.
Under careful supervision, the healthcare professional will then likely conduct a series of skin, oral, and blood tests to make an informed decision on whether or not you can safely introduce such food back into the diet. It is not recommended to try this outside the guidance of an allergist.
How long food allergies last can depend on several factors including other allergens, the severity of the allergy, and other individual medical or family histories. However, Allergy Partners provide the following timelines for how long food allergies tend to be outgrown in children.
• Egg allergies in children: 12% outgrow this by age 6, 37% by age 10, and 68% by age 16
• Cow's milk allergies in children: 42% outgrow this by age 8, 64% by age 12, and 79% by age 16
• Peanut allergies in children: Only 20% of kids will outgrow peanut allergy by age 5. This is only in those who have low levels of peanut allergy in the blood to begin with.
The Recap on Outgrowing Food Allergies
Food allergies in children have been rising over the past few decades, and food allergies can have potentially serious consequences. Food allergies can cause an array of symptoms, some being potentially severe, that are triggered by the immune system. This is different from a food intolerance that is solely related to digestive discomforts.
While adults tend to not outgrow food allergies, children are more likely to outgrow milk, egg, or soy allergies. Peanut, tree nut, fish, and shellfish allergies are less likely to be outgrown.
Whether a food allergy will be outgrown is dependent on numerous factors and should be determined with a child's healthcare team and allergist specialist.
Facts and Statistics. Food Allergy Research & Education. https://www.foodallergy.org/resources/facts-and-statistics.
Gupta RS, Lau CH, Sita EE, Smith B. Factors associated with reported food allergy tolerance among US children. Published July 13, 2013. https://www.annallergy.org/article/S1081-1206(13)00445-6/fulltext.