Millions of people have been showing problems with food allergies as well as intolerances. While often used interchangeably, it’s essential to understand the distinct differences between these conditions.
Food allergies result from an overactive immune system, mistaking certain proteins in food as harmful invaders. When exposed to these proteins, the body launches an allergic reaction, releasing chemicals such as histamines that lead to various symptoms. These can range from mild reactions like hives and itching to severe anaphylaxis, which is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
Common Food Allergens
There are certain types of foods that increase the odds of triggering an allergic reaction. A few of the most notable examples are:
As for people who have food allergies, it is highly recommended that they take the time to read food labels and carefully avoid cross-contamination during food preparation.
The Digestive System’s Struggle
Unlike allergies, food intolerances do not involve the immune system. Instead, they result from the body’s inability to digest certain substances in food properly.
One well-known example is lactose intolerance, where the body lacks the enzyme needed to break down lactose, leading to digestive discomfort. Other intolerances may involve chemicals or additives present in food, triggering adverse reactions.
Recognizing Food Intolerance Symptoms
Food intolerances often manifest as digestive issues such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Symptoms may vary in intensity; in some cases, they can be mistaken for allergies. However, unlike allergies, food intolerances rarely cause life-threatening reactions.
Seeking Professional Guidance
If you notice food intolerance or allergy, seeking professional help is vital. An allergist or immunologist can perform specific tests, like blood or skin prick tests, to accurately determine food allergies. For food intolerances, keeping a diary and eliminating suspected triggers can help identify problematic foods.
Management and Treatment
Avoiding allergenic foods altogether is the most effective way to manage food allergies. On the other hand, for those people who unfortunately suffer from severe allergies, carrying an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) is crucial in case of accidental exposure. In contrast, food intolerances may require dietary adjustments or enzyme supplements to ease symptoms.