If a certain food gives you trouble, you might think you’re allergic to it, but is that really the case? Not always. In fact, in some cases you may just be sensitive to that particular food or have an intolerance. An allergist can help you determine whether you’re dealing with a true allergy or a food intolerance.
However, there are some key differences in the two conditions that may help you gain a pretty good idea of what you’re experiencing.
A true food allergy causes an immune system reaction. This reaction affects numerous organs and can cause a range of symptoms. Your body responds to a specific food with an immunoglobulin E (IgE) response that triggers the release of histamine. This can cause an almost immediate reaction with potentially severe symptoms like anaphylaxis or hives. The reaction to a food allergy can be life-threatening.
Food sensitivity, on the other hand, can cause vague symptoms, often with delayed reaction times. The symptoms, which can include bloating, diarrhea, and migraines, can be delayed for a few days after ingesting the trigger food.
Food intolerance triggers a digestive response that’s typically much milder than the symptoms of an allergy. You may be able to eat small amounts of the food without a problem, or there may be a way for you to prevent the reaction, perhaps by taking a medication when you eat the food. Food intolerances tend to run in families, and it often just causes digestive issues.
While allergies are fairly straightforward, food intolerance can have several different causes. These include:
The absence of an enzyme your body needs to fully digest a food: One common example of this is lactose intolerance. Often, people who are lactose intolerant can take a lactase enzyme pill in order to eat or drink dairy without incident.
Irritable bowel syndrome: IBS is a chronic condition that can cause cramping, constipation, and diarrhea.
A sensitivity to food additives: One example of this is sulfites. These are an additive used in wine, canned goods, and to preserve dried fruit. If someone is sensitive to sulfites, they might experience trigger asthma attacks after consuming them.
Recurring stress or psychological factors: It’s not understood why, but sometimes just thinking about a food can make someone sick.
Celiac disease: Celiac disease is somewhat like a true food allergy. This is because it involves the immune system. Symptoms often include gastrointestinal issues, but they also be unrelated to the digestive system. People with celiac disease may experience symptoms like joint pain and headaches, but they are not at risk of anaphylaxis. Celiac disease is a chronic digestive condition triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains.
If you’re struggling with food issues, and would like to determine whether it’s an allergy, sensitivity, or intolerance, contact Allergy & Asthma Specialists SM. We’ll help you determine what you’re dealing with and how to manage it. When you enlist the help of an experienced, board-certified allergist, you can be confident that your doctor will help you find the solutions you need to manage your allergies. At Allergy & Asthma Specialists SM, all physicians are board-certified in allergy and immunology and can help you identify triggers and learn to control your symptoms. Call 610-825-5800 or visit the website for an appointment, or to learn more about services available to help you with your allergies.