Background: Allergy to peanuts and tree nuts (TNs) is one of the leading causes of fatal and near-fatal food-induced allergic reactions. These allergies can be lifelong and appear to be increasing in prevalence. Despite the seriousness of these allergies, the prevalence of peanut and TN allergy in the general population is unknown.
Objective: We sought to determine the prevalence of peanut and TN allergy among the general population of the United States.
Methods: We used a nationwide, cross-sectional, random digit dial telephone survey with a standardized questionnaire.
Results: A total of 4374 households contacted by telephone participated (participation rate, 67%), representing 12,032 individuals. Peanut or TN allergy was self-reported in 164 individuals (1.4%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.2%-1.6%) in 151 households (3.5%; 95% CI, 2.9%-4.0%). The prevalence of reported allergy in adults (1.6%) was higher than that found in children under 18 years of age (0.6%). In 131 individuals, details of the reactions were obtained. When applying criteria requiring reactions to be typical of IgE-mediated reactions (hives, angioedema, wheezing, throat tightness, vomiting, and diarrhea) within an hour of ingestion, 10% of these subjects were excluded. Among the remaining 118 subjects, allergic reactions involved 1 organ system (skin, respiratory, or gastrointestinal systems) in 50 subjects, 2 in 45 subjects, and all 3 in 23 subjects. Forty-five percent of these 118 respondents reported more than 5 lifetime reactions. Only 53% of these 118 subjects ever saw a physician for the allergic reaction, and only 7% had self-injectable epinephrine available at the time of the interview. The prevalence of peanut and TN allergy was adjusted by assuming that 10% of the remaining 33 subjects without a description of their reactions would also be excluded and correcting for a 7% false-positive rate for the survey instrument. A final "corrected" prevalence estimate of 1.1% (95% CI, 1.0%-1.4%) was obtained.
Conclusions: Peanut and/or TN allergy affects approximately 1.1% of the general population, or about 3 million Americans, representing a significant health concern. Despite the severity of reactions, about half of the subjects never sought an evaluation by a physician, and only a few had epinephrine available for emergency use.