Food allergy: A review and update on epidemiology, pathogenesis, diagnosis, prevention, and management

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2018 Jan;141(1):41-58. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2017.11.003. Epub 2017 Nov 21.


This review provides general information to serve as a primer for those embarking on understanding food allergy and also details advances and updates in epidemiology, pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment that have occurred over the 4 years since our last comprehensive review. Although firm prevalence data are lacking, there is a strong impression that food allergy has increased, and rates as high as approximately 10% have been documented. Genetic, epigenetic, and environmental risk factors are being elucidated increasingly, creating potential for improved prevention and treatment strategies targeted to those at risk. Insights on pathophysiology reveal a complex interplay of the epithelial barrier, mucosal and systemic immune response, route of exposure, and microbiome among other influences resulting in allergy or tolerance. The diagnosis of food allergy is largely reliant on medical history, tests for sensitization, and oral food challenges, but emerging use of component-resolved diagnostics is improving diagnostic accuracy. Additional novel diagnostics, such as basophil activation tests, determination of epitope binding, DNA methylation signatures, and bioinformatics approaches, will further change the landscape. A number of prevention strategies are under investigation, but early introduction of peanut has been advised as a public health measure based on existing data. Management remains largely based on allergen avoidance, but a panoply of promising treatment strategies are in phase 2 and 3 studies, providing immense hope that better treatment will be imminently and widely available, whereas numerous additional promising treatments are in the preclinical and clinical pipeline.

Keywords: Food allergy; anaphylaxis; food allergens; food hypersensitivity; gastrointestinal food hypersensitivity; oral tolerance; prevention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Food Hypersensitivity* / diagnosis
  • Food Hypersensitivity* / epidemiology
  • Food Hypersensitivity* / genetics
  • Food Hypersensitivity* / prevention & control
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Mucosal