What Is The Difference Between A Food Allergy And A Food Intolerance?

Many of us can’t tolerate certain types of foods – lactose, nuts, gluten, and shellfish come to mind as the top offenders. But have you ever wondered if you have a true allergy or just an intolerance?

Turns out, there’s a difference. A food allergy affects numerous organs in the body and can cause a range of symptoms, some of them life-threatening. An intolerance, on the other hand, prompts reactions that merely cause digestive tract problems and discomfort.

If you think you’re allergic to a particular food or food group, you’re not alone. A recent study reported on JAMA Network Open found that almost 19% of Americans believe they have a food allergy. But, the research indicates that only about 10.8% of adults in the US may actually have such a condition.

Whether you have an allergy or simply an intolerance, there are things you need to know. For starters, the following eight foods are the cause of 90% of food-allergic reactions: eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts), and wheat. Chemicals and food additives also can cause intolerance symptoms in susceptible individuals. Chocolate, cheese, and red wine can trigger migraines in some folks, for example.

While food intolerances and food allergies can have similar symptoms, it’s critical to know the differences between the two.

Because food intolerances take place in the digestive system, these reactions can cause symptoms like nausea, bloating, cramps, gas and diarrhea.

Food allergies, on the other hand, create an overreaction of the immune system, so these symptoms are more global. When an allergic reaction occurs, people may experience problems in the gastrointestinal tract (such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea), or in your skin (itching, swelling, or hives) or respiratory system (stuffy, runny, or itchy nose; sneezing; coughing; or wheezing). Individuals can also suffer a mix of any of those symptoms.

In the most serious of cases, a food allergen can trigger anaphylaxis, which causes swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing, and loss of consciousness.  This condition is severe and happens very quickly. Without immediate treatment – like an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) and expert care – anaphylaxis can be fatal.

People who have received a food allergy diagnosis have to be vigilant to avoid that particular food. This can be more difficult than it sounds.

Did you know, for instance, that soy sauce sometimes contains wheat? Or that certain broths contain soy? Such hidden ingredients pose a serious threat to sufferers of food allergies, so they have to be conscientious about reading labels and keeping informed about ingredients.

With the New Year upon us, you may have decided to make some changes to your diet. That’s great, so long as you eat healthily and safely. If you have a food allergy, stay the course with avoiding foods that could trigger a reaction, and keep reading those ingredient labels.

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