Can You Develop Food Allergies as an Adult?

Dec 15, 2023
Can You Develop Food Allergies as an Adult?
Imagine suddenly developing an allergy to a food you've eaten and enjoyed your whole life. It might seem improbable, but it's more common than you might realize. If it happens to you, what can you do about it?

Discovering you're allergic to certain foods in your childhood isn’t unusual. As an adult, however, learning that you suddenly have an allergy to foods you’ve eaten your whole life with no issue can be understandably bizarre. 

While it’s more common to hear about kids having food allergies, adults can develop them too. 

At  Advanced Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology Center PA in San Antonio and Schertz, Texas, Dr. Patricia Gomez-Dinger comes across many people who are surprised to find themselves facing this issue. 

Take a moment as she explores why and how food allergies can start showing up in adults.

What are food allergies?

A food allergy is an immune system response that occurs when your body mistakenly identifies a harmless food as dangerous to you. This reaction can cause a range of symptoms, from mild itching or hives to severe conditions like anaphylaxis, which could even be life-threatening. 

In adulthood, food allergies are sometimes mistaken as food intolerances. However, food allergies involve your immune system, unlike food intolerances, which are generally limited to digestive problems. 

The symptoms of food allergies can escalate quickly, sometimes within minutes of eating the food. 

Why do food allergies develop seemingly out of the blue?

Having a food allergy as an adult can be odd, especially when it develops suddenly. Children often outgrow allergies, but allergies that appear in adulthood tend to be lifelong. 

Various factors, including hormonal changes, environmental shifts, and health issues, contribute to the development of these allergies. For instance, moving to a new city or state might expose you to allergens you haven’t previously encountered and could trigger symptoms.

Genetics also plays a role. You're more likely to develop allergies if you have a family history of them. So, if you have a parent with a peanut allergy and had no problem enjoying them as a child, it's not unusual to suddenly develop a nut allergy in your adulthood. 

Additionally, changes in your immune system, often triggered by life events like pregnancy or illnesses, can lead you to develop food allergies. 

Identifying symptoms in adults

Symptoms of food allergies in adults can range from mild to severe. Common signs include:

  • Hives
  • Eczema
  • Swelling
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing

Anaphylaxis is the most severe reaction that can occur, and it requires immediate medical attention. Recognizing these symptoms on time is vital.

Diagnosis and management

To diagnose your food allergies, we typically take a detailed look at your medical history, assess your symptoms, and perform allergy tests. These may include skin prick tests, blood tests, or oral food challenges. 

Once we identify what food or foods you're allergic to, managing your condition primarily involves:

  • Learning how to avoid these allergens
  • Understanding cross-contamination risks
  • Having an emergency action plan 

This plan should include knowing how to use medications like antihistamines and epinephrine auto-injectors (like an EpiPen®) and wearing medical identification jewelry.

Adjusting to life with new food allergies also involves significant lifestyle changes. Learning to read and understand food labels is essential. Communicating your allergy needs to friends, family, and food service staff is also crucial.

Maintaining a balanced diet while avoiding allergens is essential, which might require consultation with a nutritionist.

At Advanced Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology Center PA, we're dedicated to providing you with the necessary tools and information to manage your allergies effectively. Request an appointment with us online or call the nearest office today.