Every mom who has a kid with a food allergy knows the constant vigilance it requires. But now there’s some news you might want to give some thought to: A new study found that a whopping 1.5 million children and adults in the United States may have a sesame allergy, making it the ninth most common allergy. That number is a lot higher than previously thought.
According to the research, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open, approximately .49% of the US population has a sesame allergy and .23% have a true food allergy, meaning they can experience skin, lung, heart or gastrointestinal symptoms, including hives, wheezing, heart palpitations, dizziness and stomach pain. It’s possible that people have the allergy but haven’t shown any symptoms.
Here’s what makes a sesame allergy extra concerning: In the US it’s required that the most common allergens are listed on a food product’s ingredients. Those are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. But sesame isn’t required to be on food labels, which means that a product could contain traces of it and there’s no way of knowing.
Sesame is a common ingredient, often found in spices, seasonings, sauces and flavorings. Plus, even if a food doesn’t contain sesame, there’s a possibility it could have been cooked in sesame oil, so the ingredient is a tricky one to track.
Proper labeling is one of the best ways to prevent a reaction. That’s why Australia, Europe, New Zealand and Canada all have sesame ingredient labeling requirements. In fact, the governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, just signed a law this week requiring packaged food in his state to include sesame on the ingredient list. The US Food and Drug Administration has requested more information about sesame allergies, but it’s unknown if or when they will change their labeling policy.
“We see sesame allergies clinically and how difficult it is for families with sesame allergies to avoid sesame, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to really dig deeper into understanding sesame allergy in the US,” Dr. Ruchi Gupta, co-author of the new study and professor of pediatrics and medicine at Northwestern University, told CNN.
In the meantime, what can moms do? Since sesame allergies are more common than we thought, it can’t hurt to take your kids to an allergist to confirm a diagnosis. They can also share advice about how to prevent reactions in the future and what to do if your child does experience one.