Is it possible to outgrow food allergies?

Last Modified: 9/08/2021

Allergies

This post was written by Heather Willison, MSN, FNP-C, PPG – Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Although typically seen most often in infants and children, food allergies can happen at any age.  In fact, as an adult you could suddenly find yourself allergic to a food that you had eaten for years without issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), food allergies are thought to occur in 4-6% of children, and 4% of adults.

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy occurs when your immune system gets excited and overreacts when it encounters a specific food protein. This overreaction leads to an allergic reaction, with the symptoms varying in severity. A reaction may involve the skin (rash, hives, swelling), digestive system (nausea, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting), or in severe reactions may impair the ability to breathe (coughing, shortness of breath or wheezing), thus becoming life threatening. 

If a food allergy is suspected, an allergy test can be performed for confirmation. Food allergy testing can be completed through a skin prick or a blood draw. It is important to only test for the specific food that is thought to have caused the reaction because there is the potential for false positives with food testing.

I have seen where a child or adult has been tested for an allergy to every food under the sun, and then showed reactivity to several foods that they eat on a routine basis without any issue.  If the reactivity to the food cannot be associated clinically (meaning there are no symptoms present when the food is eaten), then the testing is falsely positive. This sometimes leads to a diet being unnecessarily restricted.

Can you outgrow a food allergy?

Whether or not an individual can outgrow a food allergy largely depends on the type of food and the severity of the allergy. Eight foods are responsible for the majority of allergic reactions:

  • milk
  • egg
  • soy
  • wheat
  • tree nuts
  • peanut
  • shellfish
  • fish

Milk, egg, wheat and soy are the food allergens most commonly outgrown. Studies have shown that up to 80% of children who are allergic to cow’s milk and egg are able to safely eat these foods by the time they are legally able to drive a car. 

It is less likely to outgrow an allergy to peanut, tree nuts, shellfish or fish, as allergies to these foods tend to be more severe in nature. Studies have shown that a peanut allergy is only outgrown 20% of the time, and the odds of outgrowing a tree nut allergy are even lower at 14%. Shellfish and fish allergies are outgrown only 5% of the time. 

How do you know if you’ve outgrown a food allergy?

Taking a thorough health history and completing updated food allergy testing can help determine how likely it is for an individual to outgrow a food allergy. An oral food challenge is the gold standard when it comes to determining if there is a food allergy and should only be completed by an allergist. This ensures that the food is being introduced with appropriate medical staff and care available. 

If it is determined that a food allergy is still present, the provider would recommend continued strict avoidance of that food. It’s important to remember that while some allergic reactions to food can be mild, others are severe and can be fatal. Those with food allergies should carry injectable epinephrine and Benadryl®. 

 

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