A New Study Ranks Seafood as the Most Common Food Allergen in the Nation

When you think of food allergies and severe reactions, most people focus on children and peanuts. But now, new research is showing that adults, particularly women and minorities are at risk, and the culprit is seafood.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, seafood allergies are estimated to affect more than six million Americans, the majority of which are adults.

Dr. Scott Sicherer, the study's co-author, says women were almost twice as likely as men to be affected, with the highest rate reported by African Americans.

"Previously our studies looking at peanut and tree nut allergy showed that about one point two percent of the general population or over three million Americans, have peanut or tree nut allergy. We were shocked, essentially, to find that now over two percent of adults have seafood allergy."

Seafood allergies can cause life-threatening reactions, called anaphylaxis, a fact Meg Higgins learned when she had her first reaction in her early thirties:

"I actually had never had an allergic reaction in my life and only a few years ago, I went out with friends to dinner and I had salmon. Suddenly, my face started turning red, I felt like I couldn't breathe, my throat was swelling, and so I had to go straight to the hospital."

Typical symptoms of a food allergic reaction include hives, swelling of the lips, tongue or throat and difficulty breathing. Despite the potential severity, and unpredictability, of these symptoms, doctors say many adult patients tend to overestimate their ability to either avoid the food or deal with a reaction.

The study showed that patients went to the emergency room or consulted a doctor in about half of the reactions reported. For those that did see a doctor, less than eight percent were prescribed self-injectible epinephrine, which doctors say all patients at risk should carry with them at all times.