Severe food allergy cases skyrocketed over the past decade, study finds

Researcher found an increase in insurance claims involving sever food reactions.

ByABC News
August 22, 2017, 8:24 AM

— -- The number of health insurance claims documenting severe allergic reactions to food has skyrocketed nearly 400 percent over the past decade, according to a study released Tuesday by the nonprofit healthcare organization FAIR Health.

The researchers analyzed private insurance claim lines involving the diagnosis of anaphylactic food reactions, or severe allergic reactions from food that could even result in death from anaphylactic shock. The study found that private insurance claim lines with diagnoses of anaphylactic food reactions rose by 377 percent in the period between 2007 to 2016.

Peanuts were the most commonly identified food to cause anaphylaxis, according to the study. Close behind were tree nut and seed allergies, followed by egg allergies, crustacean allergies and dairy allergies.

The data also revealed that the increase in food allergy diagnoses, based on private insurance claim lines, was much higher in rural areas than urban areas -- dispelling the common misconception that most allergies occur within cities.

Robin Gelburd, the president of FAIR health, called food allergies a "growing national public health concern," in a statement announcing the study's findings.

"We intend to continue to study food allergies and to release findings that can inform research and policy,” Gelburd added.

ABC News' Chief Medical contributor Dr. Jennifer Ashton said it’s difficult to determine exactly why the numbers are increasing. It appears to be the result of environmental factors, but our own immunology may be evolving and changing as well, according to Ashton.

Ashton added that another important thing to remember when it comes to food allergies is that it is also possible to develop them later in life, not just during childhood. Symptoms of a severe allergic reactions normally occur within minutes to hours after eating a food, Ashton adds, and can include obstructive swelling of the lips, tongue and throat, trouble swallowing, shortness of breath, drops in blood pressure, loss of consciousness and chest pain.

Editor's Note: In the "GMA" broadcast segment, a graphic was mislabeled and inaccurately reflected certain findings of a FAIR Health report that addressed foods that cause severe allergic reactions. These statistics were presented as prevalence statistics when they should have been presented as statistics that are representative claims of anaphylactic reactions to certain types of foods.