- Food allergy occurs in around 5-10% of children and 2-4% of adults in Australia and New Zealand.
- The most common triggers of food allergy are egg, cow's milk (dairy), peanut, tree nuts, sesame, soy, wheat, fish and other seafood. However, almost any food can cause an allergic reaction, including fruits.
- Allergic reactions to foods range from mild to severe. Mild to moderate symptoms of food allergy include swelling of face, lips and/or eyes, hives or welts on the skin, stomach (abdominal) pain and vomiting.
- Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) affect breathing and the heart, and can therefore be life threatening. Most deaths due to anaphylaxis can be prevented by careful food allergen avoidance measures and immediate administration of an adrenaline (epinephrine) autoinjector.
- The most common foods that cause anaphylaxis are peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, milk and egg.
- Most food allergies in children are not severe, and may be ‘outgrown’ with time. Peanut, tree nut, seed and seafood allergies are less likely to be outgrown and tend to be lifelong allergies.
- Adverse reactions to foods that are not allergy include food intolerances, toxic reactions, food poisoning, enzyme deficiencies, food aversion or irritation from skin contact with certain foods. These adverse reactions are often mistaken for food allergy, but do not cause anaphylaxis.
- Recent studies have shown that delayed introduction of solid foods to babies (after 12 months of age) can increase the chance of developing food allergies. It is therefore now recommended that solid foods are introduced to babies around 6 months, but not before 4 months, to help prevent food allergies developing.
- Doctors usually perform skin testing or order blood tests for allergen specific Immunoglobulin E (antibodies) that help to identify or exclude potential food allergy triggers. Sometimes a medically supervised food allergen challenge is required to confirm or exclude food allergy.
- Dietary avoidance for food allergy should only be undertaken under medical and dietitian supervision, to prevent malnutrition and other complications such as food aversion.
For more information visit www.allergy.org.au/patients/food-allergy
© ASCIA 2019
ASCIA is the peak professional body of clinical immunology/allergy specialists in Australia and New Zealand
Postal address: PO Box 450 Balgowlah NSW 2093 Australia
This document has been developed and peer reviewed by ASCIA members and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner. Development of this document is not funded by any commercial sources and is not influenced by commercial organisations.
Content updated February 2019