Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2006;74(11):1919-1920

Myth 1: Food allergy is very common

Fact: Although 25 percent of people think they’re allergic to certain foods, studies show that about only 8 percent of children and 2 percent of adults have a food allergy.

Myth 2: Most people with food allergies are allergic to strawberries and tomatoes

Fact: Although people can be allergic to any kind of food, most food allergies are caused by nuts, cow’s milk, eggs, soy, fish, and shellfish.

Myth 3: Some people are allergic to sugar

Fact: A condition is called a food allergy when the immune system fights against a certain protein in a food. This doesn’t happen with sugar and fats.

Myth 4: Milk allergy is very common in adults

Fact: Milk allergy is much more common in children than in adults. Most children outgrow the allergy by the time they are six years old. Symptoms of milk allergy include hives, vomiting, and breathing problems after eating or drinking a dairy product.

Some adults have trouble digesting the sugar in milk. This is called lactose intolerance. It isn’t a true allergy. Symptoms of lactose intolerance are bloating, cramping, nausea, gas, and diarrhea.

Myth 5: People with food allergies are allergic to many foods

Fact: Most people with food allergies are allergic to fewer than four foods.

Myth 6: Allergy to food dye is common

Fact: Natural foods cause the most allergic reactions. Studies have found that some food additives, such as yellow dye no. 5 and aspartame (brand name: NutraSweet), cause problems in some people.

Myth 7: Food allergy is either lifelong or is always outgrown

Fact: Children usually outgrow allergies to milk, eggs, soybean products, and wheat. But people usually do not outgrow allergies to nuts, fish, and shellfish.

Myth 8: Food allergy is not dangerous

Fact: Food allergy can be fatal if it is severe enough to cause a reaction called anaphylaxis (ann-ah-phil-AX-iss). This reaction makes it hard for a person to breathe. Fast treatment with a medicine called epinephrine (ep-in-EFF-rin) can save your life. If you or your child has a severe allergy, your doctor might give you a prescription for epinephrine self-injection pens. Your doctor can show you how to use them and tell you when to use them. If your doctor thinks you might need to use this medicine, you’ll need to carry one with you at all times.

A person having an allergic reaction should be taken to the hospital, because the symptoms can start again hours after the epinephrine is taken.

Once a true food allergy is diagnosed, avoid the food that caused it. If you have an allergy, you must read the labels on all the foods you eat. Your doctor can help you learn how to keep from eating the wrong foods. If your child has food allergies, give the school and other caretakers instructions that list which foods to avoid and what to do if the food is accidentally eaten.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network

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Copyright © 2006 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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