As allergy specialists, we are often asked this question by our patients, but the answer can be more complicated than it seems.
Food allergy is the ingestion of food followed immediately by symptoms of hives, trouble breathing, vomiting, and/or collapse. It is estimated to affect 5% of adults and 8% of children. Food allergy is considered resolved when a person can eat the food in question without having these immediate symptoms. This resolution occurs at different rates and proportions whether you are talking about children or adults. It also depends on which food you are talking about. For many, the food allergy never goes away. Diagnosis and treatment of a food allergy is best made by a Board-Certified allergist.
The most severe reactions typically occur with allergy to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. Reactions to any food can be more severe if that person already has asthma. Since there is a 20% risk of an allergic reaction to foods coming back after initially getting better, it is recommended to be observed for 4 hours before being released from an urgent/emergency facility.
The following is the ranking of food allergies in kids, starting with the most common: milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy, sesame. For newly diagnosed adults, the vast majority are allergic to shellfish.
Most children will outgrow milk, egg, wheat and soy allergy although they can be teens before this occurs. Higher IgE blood levels usually means they are less likely to outgrow their food allergy. Once diagnosed, the skin prick test size and the severity of the original reaction are not as helpful to predict if a child will outgrow their food allergy. These tests are best performed and interpreted by an allergy specialist. However, for adults, neither the blood levels nor the skin prick tests seems to correlate with whether the food allergy goes away; indeed, for most adults, food allergies are lifelong.
Looking at specific foods and numbers, let’s start with egg allergy in children. 12% outgrow this by age 6, 37% by age 10, and 68% by age 16. Recent studies suggest this can be helped along by consumption of baked eggs (if allowed by a child’s physician.) Children with one food allergy have a 35% chance of having other food allergies. Food allergic children are also at increased risk of developing asthma and seasonal/pet allergies, especially if they have eczema.
Cow’s milk allergy in children resolves in 42% by age 8, 64% by age 12, and 79% by age 16. Soy allergy and wheat allergy in children have similar rates of resolution.
In contrast, with peanuts, only 20% of kids will outgrow peanut allergy by age 5 and this is only in those who have low levels of peanut allergy in the blood to begin with. Higher levels in the blood usually indicate more lifelong allergy. This is similar to what is seen with tree nuts. Also, if there is a parent or sibling with peanut allergy, the risk of developing this is much higher.
So, as you can see, there’s no short answer to the question “When will my food allergy go away?” It depends on many factors including age, food type and test result history. People who suffer from food allergy should work closely with their Allergy Partners providers to come up with the best individualized answers for them.
Dr. Ty Coleman
Allergy Partners of the Midlands