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Study: Food Allergy Is Linked to Lower Risk of COVID-19 Infection

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Key Takeaways

  • People with food allergies had a nearly 50% lower occurrence of COVID-19 infection, according to a new study.
  • Participants with other allergies such as hay fever, eczema, and asthma didn’t show a reduced risk of infection.
  • Researchers speculated that type 2 inflammation, an immune response common in allergic conditions, may reduce the amount of ACE2 receptors on the surface of respiratory cells.

Surprises continue to pop up as scientists learn more about COVID-19 and who is most vulnerable to the virus. A recent study found that people with food allergies are less likely to be infected by COVID-19 than those without the allergies.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, suggested that the risk of COVID-19 infection was lower only among people with food allergies, but not among those with asthma or allergic rhinitis (also known as hay fever).

Researchers monitored nearly 1,400 households, and about half of the participants had reported having food allergies, allergic rhinitis, eczema, or asthma.

From May 2020 to February 2021, the researchers performed nasal swabs of all participants every two weeks. If someone exhibited symptoms of COVID-19, additional swabs and blood work were taken.

People who had an existing food allergy had a nearly 50% lower occurrence of COVID-19 infection, while those with other allergic conditions were not associated with reduced risks.

Kirk Sperber, MD, an allergist at the White Plains Hospital, told Verywell that previous studies have confirmed that asthma does not increase the risk of COVID-19 infection, but the findings on food allergies were “unexpected.”

The study authors speculated that type 2 inflammation, an immune response common in allergic conditions, may reduce the amount of ACE2 receptors on the surface of respiratory cells. Since these ACE2 receptors serve as an important entry point for the COVID-19 virus, fewer receptors would mean that it’s more difficult for the virus to enter the body.

However, type 2 inflammation also exists in people with eczema and some types of asthma. The researchers said that people with food allergies may have avoided eating out at restaurants and had lower infection risks, although their community exposure was only slightly less than the other groups in the study.

The study also noted that the participants with food allergies were also allergic to three times as many allergens as those who had no food allergy.

Top Food Allergens

The top 9 food allergens are peanuts, eggs, milk, tree nuts, sesame, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish. However, there are more than 160 known food allergens.

Katie Marks-Cogan, MD, a board-certified allergist based in Los Angeles who is unaffiliated with the study, said that people who have food allergies may also have some differences in their microbiome or immune system.

“When you have a food allergy, your body is defending or overreacting by making certain antibodies to a specific protein,” Marks-Cogan told Verywell.

She said that while this study may offer slight relief to those who have intense food allergies, having food intolerances is not the same.

When people are allergic to certain proteins, they may break out in hives, swell, vomit, or have trouble breathing, while an intolerance generally causes gastrointestinal distress.

While the study findings are interesting, Marks-Cogan said, people with food allergies should still get vaccinated and practice COVID-19 safety measures, such as masking and social distancing.

What This Means For You

Regardless of your allergies, vaccination provides the best defense against COVID-19 infection, especially when combined with appropriate masks and social distancing.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Seibold MA, Moore CM, Everman JL, et al. Risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission in households with children with asthma and allergy: a prospective surveillance studyJ Allergy Clin Immunol. Published online June 1, 2022. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2022.05.014

By Rachel Murphy
Rachel Murphy is a Kansas City, MO, journalist with more than 10 years of experience.