Is It a Food Allergy or Food Intolerance?

August 13, 2015 at 3:01 pm Leave a comment

Food allergies and intolerances are on the rise. One in three Americans modifies his or her diet in the belief that he, she or a loved one, has a food allergy. In many cases it is not a true allergy, but a food intolerance that’s causing the problems.

The eight most common food allergens – cow’s milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish and shellfish – account for 90 percent of all food allergies.

Though different at their root, food allergies and food intolerances share some common symptoms. Here’s how to tell the difference:

  • A food allergy is when a specific food affects the immune system and triggers the production of an antibody (IgE) to fight it. Symptoms may be immediate or delayed up to a few hours, and range from uncomfortable (hives and stomach upset) to life threatening (swelling of the tongue and closing of the throat). Diagnosis can usually be made based on skin or lab tests.
  • A food intolerance is when eating a certain food triggers a negative physiological response, but generally doesn’t involve the immune system or trigger anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction. Symptoms may take up to three days to kick in. Elimination diets and specialty tests are the most common methods for diagnosis. While not life-threatening, symptoms can be severe and range from gastrointestinal distress, headaches, sinus and/or respiratory problems, and chronic fatigue. Common intolerances include lactose intolerance, food additives and gluten intolerance.

If you have a food allergy, you’ll need to stop eating the food altogether. If you have a food intolerance, you’ll need to avoid or cut back on that food in your diet. Your doctor can help find out if you have an allergy or intolerance.

Source: Food Allergy Research & Education; Enjoy Life Food Allergy and Intolerance Survival Guide; National Institutes of Health

Entry filed under: Allergies, Managing your health, To Your Health.

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