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Food Allergies And Intolerance: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment

Sensitivity to certain types of foods is pretty common. People often start feeling unpleasant after eating foods that don’t suit their bodies.

The most common example is when you eat something very cold or very hot. Your body immediately responds to the stimulus as either inflammation or tingling sensation.

However, it is noteworthy that not all food sensitivities are the same. And neither are all food sensitivities worth paying attention to.

In medical terms, there are precisely two types of food sensitivity – Allergies and Intolerance.

What’s the difference, you may ask?

Well, food allergies are when our immune system reacts to certain food types. Gluten allergy is a typical example.

Contrary to this, food intolerance is more of a digestive issue. Indigestion or diarrhea from consuming soy or dairy products is a typical example.

Some Common Allergenic Foods

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Did you know that only a few food items cause about 90% of all food allergies? Yes, you read that right.

The most common food allergens include:

  • eggs
  • fish including shellfish, lobsters, shrimps, and crabs
  • milk and dairy products
  • nuts including peanuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, and pistachios
  • soybeans
  • wheat (gluten)

Some even call them the “big eight allergens” (peanuts and shellfish are considered separately).

In Europe, some other allergens are also pretty common. These include sesame, lupin, celery, and mustard. Sesame allergies are also increasingly being reported in the US.

Fact Check:  

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, food allergies in children generally get better as they grow older.

Food Allergies And Intolerance: Symptoms

Symptoms of Food Allergies

Specific symptoms characterize food allergies. However, not every person would experience the same symptoms, or at least, not with the same intensity.

Nonetheless, food allergies are characterized by the following symptoms:

  • tingling sensation in the mouth
  • inflammation in the mouth or on lips
  • swelling on the face
  • skin rashes (hives)
  • wheezing
  • vomiting sensations
  • diarrhea
  • runny nose
  • streaming eyes

Symptoms of Food Intolerance

The symptoms for food intolerance may include:

  • nausea or vomiting
  • stomach ache
  • gas, bloating, or cramping in the stomach or abdomen
  • heartburn
  • diarrhea
  • headaches
  • irritability or anxiety

It is noteworthy that some of the symptoms are common for intolerance and allergies. For this reason, often a laboratory test is needed to confirm the case.

Usually, the diagnosis of food allergies requires several tests. There are options for at home food allergy testing that might help with the diagnosis. Anyhow, if you feel any of these symptoms, we recommend you get in touch with a doctor.

What Causes Food Allergies and Intolerance?

As mentioned already, food allergies are generally reactions from the immune system, whereas intolerance concerns typically the digestive system.

The exact cause of any of these is still not clear. Nonetheless, specific facts may help shed some light on the question at hand.

For starters, people with a family history of food allergies or intolerance are more likely to be affected by any of these health issues.

When some of the food substances (primarily proteins) in any source are assumed harmful by the body’s immune system, it reacts to the presence of these substances. When ignored, it develops into an allergy over time.

Our body’s immune system releases disease-fighting antibodies whenever the allergens are sensed in the body.

The antibodies also include histamine, which is known to affect the respiratory system.

The case with food intolerance, on the other hand, is entirely different. In case of food intolerance, the body lacks some of the enzymes needed to digest the food source properly.

For example, in lactose intolerance, the small intestine is inefficient in producing the enzyme – lactase. The enzyme is responsible for digesting natural sugar in dairy products, i.e., lactose. As a result, consuming lactose-containing products such as milk or yogurt can cause acute diarrhea, bloating, or gas.

Fact Check:

In food allergies, the release of specific antibodies triggers a chain reaction of symptoms. In some cases, these might even lead to life-threatening illnesses, mainly due to histamines.

Histamines affect the respiratory system, narrow the air passage, and cause swelling in the veins and muscles. Thus, reducing the overall blood and oxygen flow throughout the body.

Food Allergies And Intolerance Treatment

Treatment for Food Allergies

Traditionally, food allergies are managed by avoiding the food source that triggers the symptoms. For example, in the case of gluten allergies, patients are advised not to consume gluten products.

However, with the changing times, better therapies and treatments are also being explored. For example, Oral Immunotherapy.

Although immunotherapy is relatively new and still under testing, it has proven some results. The treatment involves giving small doses of the allergen to the patient to increase the threshold that triggers the allergy.

As a result, the patient would have a delayed onset of antibodies. Meaning, if they accidentally eat the allergenic food, they may still not experience severe symptoms.

Note: It is noteworthy here – Oral Immunotherapy is not available for all food allergies.

Apart from these treatment options, some drugs in use can help manage the symptoms.

For example, antihistamines are used to control histamine secretion. Similarly, Epinephrine (adrenaline) doses are also available for rapid relief from respiratory issues triggered by histamine.

Treatment for Food Intolerance

Food intolerance is generally treated on test and trial remedies.

For example, people suffering from lactose intolerance are generally suggested to limit the consumption of dairy products since dairy products are the primary source of lactose.

Apart from limiting the intake of an intolerant food item, your doctor may also prescribe supplementary medication. As in the case of lactose intolerance, patients are given antacid medicines. The antacid helps alleviate heartburn and stomachache.

For food intolerance, preventive prescriptions are believed to be a better alternative.

The Takeaway

Experiencing food sensitivity is totally normal. Our bodies react to everything that we eat. It is not until the sensitivity starts causing discomfort.

Not all symptoms are the same, and not everyone experiences them with the same severity.

Therefore, if you start experiencing any of these symptoms, you should consult with your doctor.

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