Jan. 4 (UPI) -- When it comes to food allergies, Americans are more worried than they need to be, a new study says.
Over 10 percent of the 40,443 adults examined in a new study had a food allergy, according to findings published Friday in JAMA Network Open. That falls well short of the 19 percent of adults in the U.S. who actually believe they have food allergies.
"While we found that one in 10 adults have food allergy, nearly twice as many adults think that they are allergic to foods, while their symptoms may suggest food intolerance or other food-related conditions," Ruchi Gupta, a Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and study lead author, said in a news release. "It is important to see a physician for appropriate testing and diagnosis before completely eliminating foods from the diet. If a food allergy is confirmed, understanding the management is also critical, including recognizing symptoms of anaphylaxis and how and when to use epinephrine."
While food allergies may not be as common as people think, they are still dangerous. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology says that food allergies lead to more anaphylaxis, or life-threatening allergic reactions, than any other cause.
"We were surprised to find that adult-onset food allergies were so common," Gupta said. "More research is needed to understand why this is occurring and how we might prevent it."
People who suffer from food allergies use epinephrine to treat anaphylaxis when healthcare professionals aren't around.
Only half the adults who visited a physician with a convincing food allergy got a confirmed diagnosis, according to researchers. And only 25 percent had a current epinephrine prescription.
The study findings showed that 7.2 million adults have shellfish allergies, making it the biggest food allergen in the group. Milk and peanut are the second and third biggest allergens for adults, 4.7 million and 4.5 million, respectively.
In all, nearly half of those studied developed their food allergies as an adult, according to the researchers.
"Our data show that shellfish is the top food allergen in adults, that shellfish allergy commonly begins in adulthood, and that this allergy is remarkably common across the lifespan," Gupta said. "We need more studies to clarify why shellfish allergy appears to be so common and persistent among U.S. adults."