Many people confuse food allergy and food intolerance but the two are quite different. Food allergy involves an abnormal reaction by the immune system and can be very serious. Food intolerance never involves the immune system.
Let’s clear up a common misunderstanding.
- Food INTOLERANCE is common.
- Food ALLERGY is relatively rare.
The two must not be confused.
- An easy way to distinguish them is that an intolerance makes you feel uncomfortable; a food “doesn’t suit you” but you can still eat it. You’re NOT allergic to it.
- If you’re allergic to a food, you can’t cat it at all. The minutest amount, even on a knife, can cause very severe symptoms like angioedema.
- Food allergy causes serious illness; intolerance NEVER does.
Food allergy is an uncommon condition in which the immune system reacts in an inappropriate or an exaggerated way to a specific food or foods, causing development of various symptoms such as an itchy rash. In contrast, food intolerance, which often causes abdominal discomfort and indigestion, does not involve the immune system in any way.
Causes of Food Allergy
- Food allergy is more common in atopic people with other allergy-related conditions such as asthma, eczema or hay fever. There is a greater risk of developing a food allergy if a close relative is allergic to a particular food, a Although allergic reactions can occur with any food, nuts (especially peanuts) are probably the most common cause, a Other relatively common causes of food allergy include seafood, strawberries and eggs,
- Though often blamed in the media and by wishful parents, food colourings and preservatives rarely cause allergic reactions, but intolerance to the food additive monosodiunm glutamate (MSG) is common,
- Wheat (gluten) allergy may cause a condition known as coeliac disease.
- An allergic reaction to the protein in cow’s milk is especially common in infants and young children.
- Roth of these conditions differ from immediate sensitivity to nuts or other foods in that they are more chronic conditions.
Symptoms of Food Allergy
Symptoms may appear almost immediately alter eating the food or develop over a few hours. They may include:
- an itchy, red rash anywhere on the body (urticaria)
- nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
- difficulty in swallowing (a medical emergency)
- itching and swelling affecting the face, lips, mouth and throat (angiocdema)
- shortness of breath or wheezing – anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic response that causes sudden difficulty in breathing and collapse. If you develop the symptoms of a severe reaction, call an ambulance immediately.
Measures for Food Allergy
- You may be able to diagnose food allergy yourself if the symptoms occur soon after you eat a particular food. However, you should consult your doctor. If he or she is unsure what is responsible for tire reaction, you may have a skin prick test.
- Your doctor may also recommend an exclusion diet (don’t embark on one yourself). By eating a restricted diet for one or two weeks, you may avoid the foods that cause your symptoms. If your symptoms improve substantially while on the diet, you may have one or more food allergies. You can gradually add other foods to your diet, but if symptoms recur when a particular food is eaten, you should avoid it in the future. You should NEVER embark on an exclusion diet without first consulting your doctor. Nor should you follow a nutritionally restricted diet lor more than two weeks. Interpreting the results of an exclusion diet is often
Keeping a food diary can help you identify particular foods to which you may he allergic.
- Keep a food diary and note symptoms.
- Show it to your doctor.
- Avoiding the problem food is the only effective treatment.
- Always ask about ingredients when eating out, and check labels on packaged foods, a Consult a diet or nutrition counsellor if you need to exclude a food that is a major part of a normal diet, such as wheat, a If a major permanent dietary change is needed, be sure to maintain a balanced diet.
What Is The Outlook?
Many food allergies, particularly nut allergies, are permanent, and people must avoid the relevant foods throughout their lives, Some food allergies may disappear. Children under age 4 who completely avoid problem foods such as wheat for two years have an excellent chance of outgrowing their allergy.