You Can Develop a Food Allergy at Any Age

You have eaten pineapple for as long as you can remember, but this time you find your lips tingle as you take a bite. Or maybe you ate your favorite shrimp scampi dinner only to discover you are covered with hives. Perhaps you are relaxing on your front porch when suddenly your eyes start getting itchy and your experience bouts of sneezing.

Young woman eating a slice of pineapple
Eric Audras / Getty Images

Is it possible that even as an adult you can suddenly develop allergies, both food and seasonal ones? The answer is an absolute yes. In fact, it is somewhat common to have allergies develop during adulthood, with no prior history. While it occurs in only about 5% of the adult population, it is currently a condition that is on the rise.

How Allergic Reactions Happen

Allergic reactions occur when your body comes in contact with something that it internally believes is harmful. This can be a food or any substance, such as pollen. As a reaction, the body produces immunoglobulin E or IgE, which are antibodies. These antibodies, in turn, attach themselves to cells which then release histamine. Histamine causes reactions such as inflammation, redness in the eyes, along with tears and an itchy feeling. If the reaction is strong enough anaphylactic shock can result. The IgE antibodies typically serve to fight infections but sometimes they attack the allergens instead.

There is also a condition called oral allergy syndrome, which is a reaction to pollen, not to a particular food. In this case, the immune system recognizes the pollen and similar proteins in the food and then causes an allergic reaction to it. This is not a true food allergy but is often confused as one.

Symptoms of Allergies

Allergic reactions can vary but some of the more common symptoms are hives, swelling, or lips or tongue, itchy eyes or skin, shortness of breath, trouble swallowing, drop in blood pressure, pale coloring of the skin, feeling faint or anaphylaxis. Most often the symptoms occur within two hours of ingesting the food in question, but in many cases, it can happen within even a few minutes of the first contact.

Top Eight Allergens

While you can be allergic to any food, the most common food allergies include milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy. These foods make up about 90% of the reported food allergies in the United States and are required to be listed on any processed food according to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act. In 2021, sesame joined the list and will have to be listed on food labels as of 2023.


8 Surprising Sources of Common Food Allergens

Why This Happens

No one really understands what might make the body have this misguided reaction. You can show no symptoms for years and suddenly experience a reaction. Some researchers believe this can happen after there is a change in one’s environment and they are exposed to this allergen at a more substantial level than ever before. And at that level the body can no longer handle it, causing a reaction.

How to Handle Allergies

If you start to show symptoms of an allergy, it is important to consult your healthcare provider. Blood and skin testing can confirm your diagnosis so that you can learn how to safely handle your allergies. Once your allergies are diagnosed, a change in diet, allergy shots or medications may help to alleviate symptoms.

So despite your age, be sure not to ignore any new reaction you might have to a food or substance. By paying close attention to this reaction, and determining its cause, you will be better prepared to eat safely and avoid further reactions.

4 Sources
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. Gupta RS, Warren CM, Smith BM, et al. Prevalence and severity of food allergies among US adults. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(1):e185630. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.5630

  2. Valenta R, Hochwallner H, Linhart B, Pahr S. Food allergies: the basics. Gastroenterology. 2015;148(6):1120-1131.e4. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2015.02.006

  3. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Food allergy.

  4. Food & Drug Administration. Food allergies.

By Marlo Mittler, MS, RD
Marlo Mittler, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian specializing in pediatric, adolescent, and family nutrition. She is the owner of NutritionByMarlo.