Food Allergy and Food Intolerance
Have you ever sat down to a delicious meal, only to find yourself in misery a short time later? If so, you might have suspected, as many people do, that you have a food allergy. However, every adverse reaction to food is not a food allergy. Food allergies are actually only a problem in a small portion of the population, and they’re much more common among children than adults.
That doesn’t mean that you’re imagining things, though. Certain foods simply do not agree with certain people. While in some cases a food allergy is to blame for our symptoms, it’s more likely that it’s a food intolerance.
Recognizing Food Allergies
Food allergies are caused by an immune response. When we eat certain foods (usually ones that are high in protein), the immune system may incorrectly identify them as harmful substances. It releases immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to fight off the offending substance, and this triggers the release of histamines.
Histamines are responsible for allergy symptoms. They can cause a variety of reactions, depending on where they are released. Symptoms associated with food allergies include hives, itching, shortness of breath, chest pain and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea and stomach pain.
A severe allergic reaction to food can be very dangerous. Symptoms may appear very quickly, and can include difficulty breathing, dizziness and a sudden drop in blood pressure, which could cause a loss of consciousness. That’s why those with food allergies must take great care to avoid the foods they are allergic to, and should carry medication at all times in case of accidental ingestion.
Recognizing Food Intolerance
Food intolerance is usually completely unrelated to the immune system. One exception is gluten intolerance, which is caused by an abnormal immune response that does not involve IgE antibodies.
Food additives are often responsible for intolerance. The flavor enhancer MSG and preservatives known as sulfites are two additives that are often associated with intolerance. Both of these additives can cause symptoms that are often mistaken for allergic reactions.
But in most cases, food intolerance is much less serious than food allergy. Intolerance may cause painful and bothersome symptoms such as stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, but it is rarely life threatening. And unlike those with food allergies, people with food intolerances can usually tolerate small amounts of the foods that affect them without developing symptoms.
The symptoms of food allergies and food intolerance are often similar, but it’s important to know the difference. If you suspect that you have either condition, talk to your doctor. He can do tests to determine whether you’re suffering from an allergy or intolerance and prescribe the right treatment.