Allergies are thought to affect more than one in four people in the UK at some point in their lives. Prior to the launch of our online clinic on allergies during February 2017, we created a survey in collaboration with leading allergy specialist Dr Adam Fox to understand more about the challenges our members face living with food allergies specifically.

Those living with food allergies

Over 41% of those who took part in the survey were living with a food allergy, with a further 18% being the carers of someone with a food allergy. Of those who were either living with or caring for someone with a food allergy, the majority (85%) were female, and between the ages of 41 and 50 (25%).

The most common food allergies that were listed in the survey were wheat (34%) and milk (31%), however 38% of participants did select other. When asked to specify what other food allergies they had, some of the most common responses were various fruits such as strawberries, kiwi and apples.

When considering which of those allergies has the most impact on their life, wheat (26%) and milk (22%) were again the most selected. Taking into consideration the symptoms and the impact food allergies can have on day to day life; close to half described their allergy as severe or very severe. On average stomach cramps, eczema and rashes were the symptoms found to be the most impactful on day to day life.

Close to half (45%) had been living with their allergy for 10 years or more, with 22% seeking advice from their doctor within 2 months of first noticing symptoms. 17% had not yet sought any professional advice on their allergy. The vast majority had received their diagnosis during a GP visit (45%), and had obtained an official diagnosis within a month.

Considering the advice and support they had been given, or not given in some cases, by their healthcare professional, participants were asked whether they believed their doctor or specialist had offered adequate support. Responses were equally divided 50/50.

Those that had been offered support described the support they had been given:

"Specialist counselling, specialist training on medication given to counteract allergy."

"Access to websites, leaflets and support forums."

"They showed me how to use an Epi pen and gave me 4 of them."

Those that had not been offered support were asked to consider what support they wished they had been offered by their doctor:

"More advice on handling severe reactions."

"I wish I had been diagnosed properly by the GP with a food intolerance instead of having to take numerous trips to see them. I also would have liked the GPs to have been more supportive. There was often a sense of not being believed and thinking it was all in my mind."

"Information on other possible allergens that maybe affecting me."

Eating out at restaurants and buying food on the go were described as two of the most difficult things to overcome when living with a food allergy. Delving a bit deeper into the experience of eating out at restaurants with a food allergy, participants were asked to rate how well restaurants cater to those with food allergies, to which the majority (45%) answered quite good. Supermarket free from ranges can vary in their variety and quality. When asked to rate the free from ranges at supermarkets, over half (53%) rated them as quite good with Tesco (27%) and Sainsbury (18%) being the most favoured brands for free from food.

Eating out and various social occasions can become a bit tricky when living with an allergy as earlier results suggest. When asked, "Do you, or have you ever, avoided certain situations and social occasions because of your food allergy?" over half answered yes (54%), with parties, staying the night at friends’ houses and family events such as weddings and funerals being some of the most common occasions avoided due to allergies.

Although the vast majority of participants described their symptoms as severe, only 21% of participants had ever had a severe allergic reaction, with only 13% carrying an Adrenaline Auto Injector with them day to day. The Epipen was the most commonly used Adrenaline Auto Injector with 88% stating that it was the product they used.

Support and advice are very important when living with any condition. The internet, GP and health advice websites such as talkhealth were some of the frequently visited places for support, however close to three quarters of participants did not feel that there was enough support available for those living with an allergy. If you would like support or advice from experts and other patients who understand the daily hardships of living with an allergy, please do visit our online clinic on allergies. Here you can ask questions and share best practice. The clinic closes on February 28th, so please do join in the conversation today. If you are reading this after the clinic has closed, but would still like to take a look at the questions and answers, the clinic is open to read however you will not be able to ask questions.

Those not living with food allergies

41% of those who took part in this survey were not living or caring for someone with an allergy. To find out a bit more about general awareness of food allergies, we asked a few questions to better understand what people would do if they suspected they had an allergy. Over a quarter (28%) of participants that did not have a diagnosed allergy had suspected that they may have had an allergy in the past. Finally, when asked what they would do in the event that they believed they may have an allergy, over 67% stated that they would book an appointment to visit their GP.

If you're interested in a detailed analysis of the results for these surveys please contact us.