The eight most common food allergies are eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish (especially crustaceans), soy, tree nuts, and wheat. Though any food can cause an allergic reaction, these eight foods cause 90% of all food allergies (FAAN n.d.). The most common food allergies in young children are eggs, milk, soy, and wheat, but these are usually outgrown by school age. Allergies to fish, peanuts, shellfish, and tree nuts usually persist past childhood and are therefore the most common food allergies in adults (Kagan 2003).
Eggs are found in many foods, not only the obvious cakes and custards, but also some breads, pastas, salad dressings, and the breading on some fried foods. Egg protein is also found in small amounts in flu vaccines, so people with an egg allergy should check with their doctor before receiving a flu vaccination. Other vaccinations are safe for egg-allergic individuals.
Fish allergy is one of the most common food allergies in middle-aged adults, affecting up to 3% of adults (Consumer Reports 2005). Fish (anchovies) can be found in some steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and salad dressings, and highly sensitive individuals have been reported to react to the air in fish markets or kitchens where fish is being cooked (FAAN n.d.).
Milk allergy is distinct from lactose intolerance, the inability to digest milk sugar. Milk allergy affects 2-3% of infants, most of whom will outgrow it by preschool. Infants with a milk allergy are often switched to soy-based formula; if they can’t tolerate it, they can be switched to a formula in which the proteins have been broken down enough to not trigger an allergic reaction (Dowshen 2008).
Peanut allergy can affect both children and adults and is the most common cause of anaphylaxis death in the United States. Fortunately, research
has shown that casual contact with peanut butter in children with peanut allergy is unlikely to cause a severe reaction (Simonte et al. 2003), though these individuals should certainly avoid eating peanut butter.
Shrimp allergy is the most common shellfish allergy, though other crustaceans as well as mollusks can cause reactions (Zhang et al. 2006). Individuals allergic to one type of shellfish are likely to experience cross-reactions to other types, especially related types, so the safest course for people with a shellfish allergy is to avoid all shellfish (Wu and Williams, 2004).
Soy is found in many processed foods, so eliminating it from the diet can be challenging. Refined soybean oil is usually safe for people with soy allergy, but not cold-pressed or expeller-pressed soybean oil (FAAN n.d.).
Tree nuts can be found in unexpected foods, like barbecue sauce, and even non-food items like small beanbags. Although tree nuts and peanuts are not related botanically, doctors recommend people with one allergy avoid the other (FAAN n.d.). Both are often processed on the same equipment.
Wheat allergy is troublesome because wheat is found in so many foods, including such unlikely candidates as chili, hot dogs, ice cream, and imitation crab meat. Careful label monitoring is necessary to manage a wheat allergy, which is distinct from celiac disease, an autoimmune disease triggered by wheat gluten.
- Consumer Reports, 2005. “Seafood allergies: Common, sudden, deadly.” ConsumerReports.org.
- Dowshen, S., 2008. “Milk Allergy in Infants.” Nemours Foundation website.
- Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, n.d. “Common Food Allergens.” Foodallergy.org.
- Kagan, R. S., 2003. “Food Allergy: An Overview.” Environ. Health Perspec. 111(2): 223–225.
- Mayo Clinic staff, 2007. “Egg allergy: Prevention.” MayoClinic.com.
- Simonte, S.J.; S. Ma, S. Mofidi, and S. H. Sicherer, 2003. “Relevance of casual contact with peanut butter in children with peanut allergy.” J. Allergy Clin. Immun. 112(1):180-2.
- Wu, A. Y. and G. A. Williams. 2004. “Clinical characteristics and pattern of skin test reactivities in shellfish allergy patients in Hong Kong.” Allergy Asthma Proc. 25(4):237-42.
- Zhang, Y.; H. Matsuo and E. Morita., 2006 “Cross-reactivity among shrimp, crab and scallops in a patient with a seafood allergy.” J. Dermatol. 33(3):174-7.