Food Allergy Myths

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD
Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD

Food allergies are often misunderstood, even though societal recognition of, and education about, the condition is increasing. See if you have heard - or believed - any of the following myths about food allergies:

  1. "You're "allergic" to any food that gives you problems." This statement is false, since there are several problems that can arise after eating specific foods, the majority of which are unrelated to allergy. True allergies to foods are immunologic reactions involving the class of immunoglobulins (proteins that assist in the body's immune response) known as immunoglobulin (Ig) E. Other kinds of reactions to foods that are not food allergies include food intolerances (such as lactose or milk intolerance ), food poisoning, and toxic reactions. The prevalence of food allergy in the population is much lower than the prevalence of adverse reactions to foods. It is estimated that true food allergies occur in 2% to 5% of the population.
  1. "All food allergies in children resolve as they get older." As they grow older, some children may tolerate foods that previously caused allergic reactions. This is more likely to happen in the case of allergies to milk, eggs, and wheat, in which the severity of reactions (or symptoms) may decrease by late childhood. It is not clear in all cases, however, if the improved symptoms are an indication that the allergy has disappeared. For example, in wheat allergy (celiac disease) symptoms may improve, but a mild allergic reaction continues in the intestine, and symptoms and signs of the allergy may recur in later years. On the other hand, milk allergy appears to truly disappear as children grow older.
  1. "Peanut allergy is the most common food allergy." Peanut allergy is the food allergy most likely to result in anaphylactic reactions (severe, potentially fatal allergic reactions), but only about 0.6% of the population is affected by peanut allergy. The most common food allergies reported by adults are allergies to fruits and vegetables.

  1. "Food allergies always begin in childhood." Allergies to fruits and vegetables may develop later in life because of similarities in fruit and vegetable proteins with airborne allergens such as pollens. The airborne allergens cause the body to produce Ig E, and the Ig E then reacts with the similar proteins in fruits and vegetables.
  1. "Allergy shots are an effective treatment for food allergies." Desensitization to certain allergens by injecting small quantities of extracts of the allergen over a long time has been an effective therapy for certain allergies (such as allergies to pollens). However, there is no scientific evidence that these shots can prevent allergic reactions to food.

REFERENCE: Fauci, Anthony S., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 17th ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2008.


Last Editorial Review: 8/31/2010