A certain food may bother you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re allergic to it. Sometimes, the problem is a food sensitivity, and sometimes it’s an intolerance. Does this sound confusing? Let’s clarify some of the basic facts about food allergies and sensitivities.
Allergies and sensitivities are different because of the way the body responds. If you’re allergic to a food, your body’s response to that food is what causes a systemic allergic reaction. If you’re not allergic to the food, but have a food sensitivity or intolerance, the food itself triggers a more localized digestive reaction.
Food sensitivities and intolerances are more common than allergies. Fortunately, they’re not life-threatening. While symptoms of food sensitivity can vary, food intolerance affects the digestive system, causing gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, and nausea. Rather than being caused by an allergic reaction, sensitivities and intolerances are the result of the body’s inability to digest a particular food.
Food sensitivity and intolerance are not immune-mediated. When a food triggers an intolerance, it happens in your digestive tract. For instance, if you are lactose intolerant, your body can’t break down lactose, and this leads to digestion-related symptoms. You might have a sensitivity or intolerance if you don’t have the right enzymes to digest certain foods, have a reaction to food additives or preservatives like sulfites, MSG, or artificial colors, you’re sensitive to chemical additives, or you have a sensitivity to sugars that are found in foods like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or onions.
An allergic response involves the immune system. The immune system defends your body against attackers like bacteria, fungus, or viruses. If your immune system identifies a protein in what you eat as one of these interlopers, it tries to fight it by producing antibodies. This causes allergic reactions like the common immunoglobulin E (IgE)- mediated reaction. IgEs are allergic antibodies that cause a reaction as soon as chemicals, like histamine from mast cells, are released.
Non-IgE mediated food allergies involve the activation of other parts of the immune system. Symptoms of non-IGE reactions don’t typically happen immediately, and they tend to occur in the gastrointestinal tract. These symptoms include bloating, vomiting, and diarrhea, and are generally not life-threatening.
Food allergies can be serious, or even fatal. Sometimes a person with a severe food allergy doesn’t even have to eat the food to react to it. Something as insignificant as touching the food or inhaling its fumes can be deadly. Symptoms of a food allergy include skin reactions like hives, itching, or swelling, digestive symptoms, and anaphylaxis, which includes trouble breathing, dizziness, wheezing, and even death.
Eight foods cause the most allergies. In fact, the following foods cause 90 percent of all allergic reactions:
– Tree Nuts
It’s important to know if you have a food allergy. If you do have food allergies, you have to avoid those foods. In case of accidental ingestion, you need to have self-injectable epinephrine on hand and know how to administer it. Allergies can be serious, but with the right care, they can be managed.
Whether you suspect you have a food allergy, sensitivity, or intolerance, contact Allergy & Asthma Specialists SM to help diagnosis your symptoms. The allergists at A&AS are the regions experts on identifying food allergies and administering high risk food allergy testing and challenges. When you enlist the help of an experienced, board-certified allergist for proper testing and treatment, 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.