BACKGROUND: Studies of the prevalence of different types of food allergy in adults are lacking. OBJECTIVE: To define the prevalence of IgE-mediated food allergies in Italian adults attending allergy clinics and to assess possible differences associated with geographical position and/or dietary habits. METHODS: Seventeen allergy outpatient clinics scattered throughout Italy participated to a multi-centre study in 2007. The number of atopic subjects and of food allergic patients along with clinical features were recorded by pre-defined criteria. Patients with unequivocal history of food allergy confirmed by positive skin prick test were included as cases. RESULTS: Twenty five thousand six hundred and one subjects were screened; 12,739 (50%) were atopic, and 1079 (8,5%) had IgE-mediated food allergy. Sixty four percent of patients were females. Overall, the most frequent food allergy was the pollen-food allergy syndrome (55%), which was associated with oral allergy syndrome in 95% of cases and whose frequency decreased southbound. Forty-five percent of patients had a type 1 food allergy, in most cases (72%) caused by fruits and vegetables, and generally associated with a history of systemic symptoms. Type 1 food allergies represented 96% of food allergies in the South. Lipid transfer protein (LTP) accounted for 60% of sensitizations and caused most primary food allergies in all areas. CONCLUSION: Plant-derived foods cause most food allergies in Italian adults. The pollen-food allergy syndrome is the most frequent type of food allergy followed by allergy to LTP whose frequency increases southbound. The pattern of allergy to certain foods is clearly influenced by specific geographic features such as pollen exposure and dietary habits.
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