Dr Mark Rosenthal

MD MB ChB FRCP FRCPCH BSc

Consultant in Paediatric Respiratory Medicine

also specialist in Food Allergies & Disorders of Sleep

A | A | A

T: 0207 351 8832

E: s.harvey@rbht.nhs.uk

A:The Royal Brompton Hospital, London, SW3 6NP

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Food allergies can run in families, but the way that they are inherited is complicated and other factors, such as diet and environment can be involved too. However, there is certainly a genetic component to food allergies.

Food Allergies Run in Families

What Causes a Food Allergy?

Food allergies happen when the immune system reacts to something that it shouldn’t. The immune system is only supposed to respond to germs in order to protect your body. However, it can sometimes start to react to a specific protein found in your food instead. For example, it may respond to a protein found in peanuts or shellfish.

Since the immune system believes that this protein is a threat, it will trigger the same immune response that happens when you actually are ill. The symptoms of food allergies can include rashes, digestive problems, tingling lips, and swelling in the lips or throat. All of these symptoms are caused by the antibodies and inflammation your immune system produces to try to protect you.

The response is very specific and it can happen in response to any substance that your immune system misidentifies as a threat. You can be allergic to any kind of food.

Can Food Allergies Run in Families?

Anyone can be affected by a food allergy, but the tendency to develop an allergy does seem to run in some families. If one person in your family has a food allergy then it is more likely for another person to be affected. However, even if you don’t know of any food allergies in your family, it is still possible for one to appear.

The way that food allergies are inherited is quite complicated. Scientists have found genes that increase the chances of developing a food allergy, but multiple genes are involved and none of them guarantee that you’ll have a food allergy.

In fact, there are several conditions linked to the immune system that often seem to appear in the same families. Asthma, eczema, hay fever and allergies are all linked. The chances of developing one of these are higher if other people in your family have any of them.

Will My Child Have a Food Allergy?

Food allergies do have a hereditary component, but we can’t predict if your child is going to be affected. We do know that your child is more likely to have a food allergy if you have one. However, many parents with food allergies have children who are unaffected. It is also possible for parents who don’t have food allergies to have children who are affected.

It is believed that if one parent has a food allergy there is about a 1 in 2 chance that a child will be affected. If both parents have food allergies then the risk is about 3 in 4.

Since it is the tendency to develop food allergies that is inherited, rather than the allergy itself, different members of the family often have allergies to different foods. For example, you might have a peanut allergy while your child is allergic to eggs.

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