Food Allergy Facts and Figures
Kids with Food Allergies (KFA) is here to help keep your family safe and healthy. KFA is part of the nation’s oldest and largest asthma and allergy charity, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
What Is a Food Allergy?
- A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system sees a certain food as harmful and reacts by causing symptoms. This is an allergic reaction.
- Foods that cause allergic reactions are called allergens.
- Allergic reactions can involve the skin, mouth, eyes, lungs, heart, gut, and brain.
- Mild and severe symptoms can lead to a serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis [anna-fih-LACK-sis]. This reaction usually involves more than one part of the body and can worsen quickly.
- Anaphylaxis must be treated right away with epinephrine to provide the best chance for improvement and prevent serious, potentially life-threatening complications.
How Common Are Food Allergies?
- As of 2021, about 20 million people have food allergies in the U.S.1,2
- About 16 million (6.2%) U.S. adults have food allergies.1
- About 4 million (5.8%) U.S. children have food allergies.2
- In 2021, 7.6% of non-Hispanic Black children had food allergies, compared to 5.5% of non-Hispanic white children.2
- Food allergy has increased among U.S. children over the past 20 years, with the greatest increase in Black children.3
- Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have asthma or other allergic diseases.4
What Are the Most Frequent Food Allergens?
- Nine foods cause most food allergy reactions in the United States:5
- Tree nut (for example, almonds, walnut, pecans, cashews, pistachios)
- Fish (for example, bass, flounder, cod)
- Shellfish (for example, crab, shrimp, scallop, clams)
- Sesame is a rising food allergy. It impacts an estimated 1 million people in the United States.6 It was declared a major allergen in the United States in 2021.
What Is Anaphylaxis?
- Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Not all allergic reactions are anaphylaxis.7
- Symptoms of anaphylaxis usually involve more than one part of the body such as the skin, mouth, eyes, lungs, heart, gut, and brain.
- Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include:
- Skin: hives (often very itchy), flushed skin, or rash
- Mouth: swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat; tingling or itchy feeling in the mouth
- Lungs: shortness of breath, trouble breathing, coughing, or wheezing
- Heart: dizziness, lightheadedness, loss of consciousness, low blood pressure, shock
- Stomach: cramps, vomiting, diarrhea5
- Each year in the U.S., it is estimated that anaphylaxis to food results in 90,000 emergency room visits.7
- From 2006-2015, emergency room visits from food-induced anaphylaxis in infants and toddlers more than doubled. 8
How Are Food Allergies Managed and Treated?
- Although new treatments are being developed, there is currently no cure for food allergies.5
- Not eating the food allergen is the primary way to prevent a reaction.5
- People with food allergies should carefully read food ingredient labels and always ask about ingredients before eating food prepared by other people. 5
- Epinephrine is the first line of treatment for anaphylaxis.9
- People with food allergies should always have epinephrine with them. 9
- If a person is having anaphylaxis, they should:
- Follow their Anaphylaxis Action Plan
- Use their epinephrine
- Get emergency medical care to ensure symptoms resolve10
Are Food Allergies Outgrown?
- Milk, egg, wheat, and soy allergies are often outgrown. Most people do not outgrow peanut, tree nut, fish, and shellfish allergies.11
Food Allergy Fact
Feeding common food allergens to babies starting between 4-6 months of age lowers their risk of developing food allergy.
Medical Review: April 2022 by Gurjit K. Khurana Hershey, MD; updated March 2023
1. Ng, A.E. & Boersma, P. (2023). NCHS Data Brief, no 460: Diagnosed allergic conditions in adults: United States, 2021. National Center for Health Statistics. https://dx.doi.org/10.15620/cdc:122809
2. Zablotsky, B., Black, L.I., & Akinbami, L.J.(2023). NCHS Data Brief, no 459: Diagnosed allergic conditions in children aged 0-17 years: United States, 2021. National Center for Health Statistics. https://dx.doi.org/10.15620/cdc:123250
3. Keet, C. A., Savage, J. H., Seopaul, S., Peng, R. D., Wood, R. A., & Matsui, E. C. (2014). Temporal Trends and Racial/Ethnic Disparity in Self-Reported Pediatric Food Allergy in the United States. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 112(3), 222-229.e3. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anai.2013.12.007
4. Branum, A., & Lukacs, S. (2019). Food Allergy Among U.S. Children: Trends in Prevalence and Hospitalizations. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Center for Health Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db10.htm
5. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2023). Food Allergies.U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/food-allergies
6. Warren, C. M., Chadha, A. S., Sicherer, S. H., Jiang, J., & Gupta, R. S. (2019). Prevalence and Severity of Sesame Allergy in the United States. JAMA Network Open, 2(8), e199144. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.9144
7. Clark, S., Espinola, J., Rudders, S. A., Banerji, A., & Camargo, C. A. (2011). Frequency of US Emergency Department Visits for Food-Related Acute Allergic Reactions. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 127(3), 682–683. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2010.10.040
8. Robinson, L. B., Arroyo, A. C., Faridi, M. K., Rudders, S., & Camargo, C. A., Jr (2021). Trends in US Emergency Department Visits for Anaphylaxis Among Infants and Toddlers: 2006-2015. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, 9(5), 1931–1938.e2. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaip.2021.01.010
9. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. (2018). Epinephrine Auto-injector. https://acaai.org/allergies/management-treatment/epinephrine-auto-injector
10. Cardona, V., Ansotegui, I. J., Ebisawa, M., El-Gamal, Y., Fernandez Rivas, M., Fineman, S., Geller, M., Gonzalez-Estrada, A., Greenberger, P. A., Sanchez Borges, M., Senna, G., Sheikh, A., Tanno, L. K., Thong, B. Y., Turner, P. J., & Worm, M. (2020). World Allergy Organization Anaphylaxis Guidance 2020. World Allergy Organization Journal, 13(10), 100472. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.waojou.2020.100472
11. Sicherer, S. H., & Sampson, H. A. (2014). Food Allergy: Epidemiology, Pathogenesis, Diagnosis, and Treatment. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 133(2), 291-307.e5. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2013.11.020