I was going into anaphylactic shock, I was sure of it. Newly pregnant and paranoid about everything, I had eaten something new and felt my throat tightening. It was hard to breathe.
I told my husband to rush home from work, and had him take me straight to the emergency room. I remember sitting in the waiting area, panicking, and wondering why they weren’t taking my plight more seriously.
Hours later, we had our answer: not an allergic reaction, just a panic attack. The ER doctor handed me a pamphlet on “soldier’s heart,” which is basically shortness of breath and chest pain caused by anxiety. So… not dying, then? No.
I wasn’t totally convinced, so my family doctor prescribed an EpiPen, which I carried around faithfully in my purse along with a bottle of Benadryl.
That was five years ago, but I’ve still had flashes of thinking I might be allergic to something — and I’m not alone. Childhood allergies can reappear, oral allergy syndrome can catch you off-guard, and adult-onset food allergies can strike at any point in your life.
Many adults without allergies are choosing to carry just-in-case EpiPens on the off-chance they have a sudden, unprecedented allergic reaction.
A Northwestern University study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology is showing that the older a patient is when they’re diagnosed with food allergies, the more likely they are to have a severe reaction.
The study looked at the medical records of more than 1,100 adults with food allergies, and saw that more than 15 per cent had been diagnosed as adults — with most having their first reaction in their early 30s.
According to the study …
- Women are also more likely to have adult onset allergies than men
- Shellfish and tree nuts are the most common adult-onset allergies
- All of the Top 8 allergens seen in children — milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy — are also present in adults
Food allergies currently affect 8 per cent of children and 5 per cent of adults, but the study authors say that figure is likely higher — and rising — because most allergy studies are based on babies and children. It’s unclear how many adults are experiencing food allergies, and why certain allergies might strike in adulthood.
Many experts believe children have food allergies because they fail to develop a tolerance to a food, but what about adults who eat a food for decades before having a reaction? The study suggests they’re “losing tolerance” to foods they could once eat, and this could be critical in understand how food allergies develop.