What Is the Difference Between Food Allergy and Food Intolerance?
Certain foods may cause some kind of an unpleasant reaction in some people. However, it’s not always necessarily an allergic reaction. In many of these cases, people experience the symptoms of a food intolerance, which are quite similar to those of a food allergy but less serious.
So how can you tell if you have a food allergy or a food intolerance? There are some hints to help you distinguish between the two. If you have any doubts, see a doctor, and he will give you the final diagnosis.
One of the differences between these conditions is that food allergies usually occur suddenly, out of nowhere, while food intolerance develops gradually. In addition, an allergic reaction can be triggered even by small amounts of a food and it happens every time you eat the food. On the contrary, food intolerance only occurs if you eat the food in large amounts and frequently. Besides, unlike intolerance, food allergies can sometimes threaten your life.
What Are the Symptoms Caused by Food Allergies and Food Intolerance?
Both conditions may cause such symptoms as vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and stomach pain.
The main difference between the symptoms of food allergies and intolerance relates to the primary cause of the conditions. For instance, food intolerance develops when your stomach gets irritated by a certain food, and the food cannot be properly digested. Thus, if you experience symptoms like bloating, gas or cramps, heartburn, headache and irritability, it’s most likely food intolerance.
An allergic reaction, however, is caused by your immune system’s overreaction to some ingredient in a food that is normally harmless. In order to fight the “harmful” substance, your body releases a chemical called histamine, which is responsible for the common allergic symptoms: itchiness of the skin, rash or hives, breath shortness, and chest pain. Sometimes, allergens in foods may cause a life-threatening reaction including sudden drop in blood pressure and difficulty breathing or swallowing. In severe cases of allergy attacks, you should call 911 as soon as possible.
What Are the Common Foods Triggering Allergies and Intolerances?
The majority of food allergies (up to 90 percent) are caused by the following eight foods: peanuts (see peanut allergies), tree nuts (e.g. almonds, pecans and walnuts), soy, wheat, milk, eggs, fish and shellfish.
When it comes to food intolerance, in most cases, people are affected by lactose intolerance, a condition in which your body is not able to digest lactose. Lactose is a kind of sugar contained in milk and dairy products. Common causes of food intolerance also include sulfites and other food additives. Sometimes, people may get asthma attacks triggered by sulfites.
You may also have heard about a gluten allergy which is also known as celiac disease. It is a long-running digestive condition caused by this protein found in wheat and other grains. Although your immune system is involved in this condition, the symptoms of celiac disease are not life-threatening.
How Do You Treat Food Allergies?
If you think you have a food allergy or intolerance, you are advised to see a doctor who will take some tests to help figure out what’s causing the symptoms. You can try to keep a special diary noting what you eat and the symptoms you experience. You can also stop eating certain foods to determine the triggers of your symptoms.
In case you are allergic to some food, you must completely exclude it from your diet, otherwise, you will be at risk for anaphylaxis. This is a serious life-threatening reaction that requires an immediate injection of epinephrine. Ask your doctor about the severity of your allergy. If there is a risk of anaphylaxis, you will need to carry at least two epinephrine shots with you (such as Auvi-Q or Epi-Pen) to be able to give it to yourself in case of emergency.
With a food intolerance, you will have to avoid the food or decrease its amount in your diet. For instance, if you are lactose-intolerant, you can switch to lactose-free milk products or use lactase enzyme supplements.
What Can You Do to Prevent the Symptoms?
You need to determine the foods and the quantities of the foods that are causing your symptoms, and try to avoid them or at least limit your consumption of these foods.
You should always be sure about the ingredients contained in your food. Therefore, it is important to read the labels and check all the ingredients, including condiments and seasonings which may contain MSG or other allergenic additives. If you have a dinner out, make sure your meal is prepared in a proper way and doesn’t contain any problem ingredients.