Food Allergy V/S Food Intolerance

Understanding the difference between food allergies and food intolerance

Since the symptoms associated with food intolerance can occasionally mimic the symptoms of a food allergy, the terms food allergy and food intolerance are frequently mistaken as synonyms. However, food intolerance does not result in severe allergic reactions, like anaphylaxis, and does not involve the immune system.

An actual food allergy has immune system effects. The harmful food can cause a variety of symptoms, some of which are severe or even fatal, even in small doses. On the other hand, an allergy to a portion of food frequently affects the digestive system alone and results in milder symptoms.

Some of the symptoms of food intolerance and food allergy are similar, but the differences between the two are very important. Eating a food you are intolerant to can leave you feeling miserable. However, if you have a true food allergy, your body’s reaction to this food could be life-threatening

What is a food allergy?

An immunological response that happens shortly after consuming a particular food is known as a food allergy. Foods that cause allergies can cause symptoms like hives, swollen airways, or digestive issues in even small amounts. Some people may experience severe symptoms from a food allergy, including a potentially fatal anaphylactic reaction.

Up to 4% of adults and 8% of children under the age of five are thought to suffer from food allergies. Some kids outgrow their food allergies as they get older, even though there is no cure.

It’s easy to mix up the much more common reaction known as food intolerance with a food allergy. Food intolerance is a less serious condition that does not involve the immune system, despite being bothersome.

Symptoms of food allergy

  • an itchy sensation inside the mouth, throat, or ears
  • a raised, itchy red rash (urticaria, or “hives”)
  • swelling of the face, around the eyes, lips, tongue, and roof of the mouth (angioedema)
  • vomiting

What are the causes of food allergies?

Food allergies happen when the immune system, the body’s defense against infection, mistakenly treats proteins found in food as a threat. As a result, several chemicals are released. It’s these chemicals that cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Almost any food can cause an allergic reaction, but certain foods are responsible for most food allergies. In children, the foods that most commonly cause an allergic reaction are:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts
  • fish
  • shellfish

Most children who have a food allergy will have experienced eczema during infancy. The worse the child’s eczema and the earlier it started, the more likely they are to have a food allergy.

In adults, the foods that most commonly cause an allergic reaction are:

  • peanuts
  • tree nuts, such as walnuts, brazil nuts, almonds and hazelnuts
  • fruits, such as apples and peaches
  • fish
  • shellfish, such as crab, lobster, and prawns

It’s still unknown why people develop allergies to food, although they often have other allergic conditions, such as asthmahay fever, and eczema.

Type of food allergies

Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance
Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance
  • IgE-mediated food allergy

The most common type is triggered by the immune system producing an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Symptoms occur a few seconds or minutes after eating. There’s a greater risk of anaphylaxis with this type of allergy.

  • Non-IgE-mediated food allergy

These allergic reactions aren’t caused by immunoglobulin E but by other cells in the immune system. This type of allergy is often difficult to diagnose as symptoms take much longer to develop (up to several hours).

  • Mixed IgE and non-IgE-mediated food allergies

Some people may experience symptoms from both of the above types.

How do you treat food allergies?

Currently, there is no medical advancement that can cure food allergies. Scientists are investigating new ways to cure and help people manage food allergies and possibly desensitize them to allergens, but these are still being researched and are in process.

Whether you have an IgE-mediated or non-IgE-mediated food allergy, the best way to avoid an allergic reaction is to identify the foods you are allergic to and strictly avoid them. Depending on the severity of your food allergy, your healthcare professional may prescribe medications, including epinephrine auto-injectors, for you to carry with you at all times in case you accidentally ingest and have a reaction to a food you’re allergic to.  It is important to take all symptoms of food allergies seriously. Both mild and severe symptoms of an IgE-mediated allergic reaction can lead to anaphylaxis, which is a medical emergency.

While non-IgE-mediated food allergies are less likely to lead to anaphylaxis, they can significantly affect quality of life and should be addressed. If you suspect you have a food allergy, consult a doctor or allergist to determine which foods you’re allergic to and should avoid. You may also find it helpful to meet with a registered dietitian who can help you safely avoid foods you’re allergic to while ensuring you’re eating a varied, balanced diet that meets your nutrient needs.

Who is affected by food allergies?

  • Most food allergies affect younger children under the age of three. It’s estimated that around 1 in every 14 children of this age has at least one food allergy.
  • Most children who have food allergies to milk, eggs, soy, and wheat in early life will grow out of them by the time they start school.
  • Peanut and tree nut allergies are usually more persistent. An estimated four out of five children with peanut allergies remain allergic to peanuts for the rest of their lives.
  • Food allergies that develop during adulthood or persist into adulthood are likely to be lifelong allergies. For unclear reasons, rates of food allergies have risen sharply in the last 20 years. However, deaths from anaphylaxis-related food reactions are now rare.

What is a food intolerance?

A food intolerance makes it harder for a person to digest some foods. It’s critical to understand the distinction between a food allergy and a food intolerance. Food intolerances are widespread. Some estimates suggest that they could impact 15–20% of the population. Individuals suffering from digestive system disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), are more likely to have food intolerances. The majority of IBS sufferers, according to the IBS network, have dietary intolerances. Food intolerances typically affect the digestive system rather than the immune system, whereas food allergies are the result of an immune system response to a particular food. 

Common types of food intolerance

  • Lactose: 

A sugar present in milk and dairy products is called lactose. An enzyme known as lactase breaks it down in the body and is required for the proper digestion and absorption of lactose. A lack of lactase enzymes results in lactose intolerance, which impairs lactose digestion and produces symptoms related to the digestive system.

The following are signs of lactose intolerance:

  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Gas, bloating, diarrhea, and nausea
  • Lactose intolerance is very common.

Lactose intolerance is thought to affect 65% of the global population. A stool PH test, a lactose breath test, or a lactose intolerance test can all be used to diagnose intolerance. Steer clear of dairy products like milk and ice cream that contain lactose if you suspect you may be lactose intolerant. Since they have less lactose than other dairy products, aged cheeses and fermented foods like kefir may be easier for people with lactose intolerance to tolerate. 

  • Caffeine: 

Coffee, soda, tea, and energy drinks are just a few of the many beverages that contain the bitter chemical caffeine. As a stimulant, it lessens fatigue and heightens alertness when taken. It accomplishes this by obstructing adenosine receptors, a neurotransmitter that controls sleep-wake cycles and induces drowsiness.

The majority of adults can take up to 400 mg of caffeine daily without experiencing any negative effects. This equates to approximately four cups of coffee. Some people, on the other hand, are more sensitive to caffeine and may experience negative effects even from small doses. Genetics and a weakened body’s capacity to break down and eliminate caffeine have both been connected to this hypersensitivity to the stimulant.

Caffeine allergy, which affects the immune system, is not the same as caffeine sensitivity. When even a tiny amount of caffeine is consumed, people who are hypersensitive to the stimulant may suffer from the following symptoms:

  • frantic heart rate
  • Unease
  • Shutters
  • Tiredness
  • Uneasy feeling
  • Feeling uneasy

Caffeine-sensitive people should limit their consumption by staying away from foods and drinks like coffee, soda, energy drinks, tea, and chocolate.

  • Gluten: 

The term “gluten” refers to the proteins present in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. Gluten is linked to a variety of illnesses, such as wheat allergies, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and celiac disease. Because celiac disease triggers an immune response, it is categorized as an autoimmune condition. The immune system of those who have celiac disease attacks the small intestine and can seriously damage the digestive system. Because of their similar symptoms, wheat allergies and celiac disease are frequently confused. The way they differ is that celiac disease is caused by an aberrant immune response to gluten specifically, whereas wheat allergies produce an allergy-producing antibody to wheat proteins. 

Even when a test for celiac disease or a wheat allergy comes back negative, a lot of individuals still have uncomfortable symptoms. This is referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and it affects between 0.5 and 13% of people worldwide. It is a milder form of gluten intolerance. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity symptoms are comparable to celiac disease symptoms and include:

  • Swelling
  • abdomen ache
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Migraines
  • Weakness Joint ache
  • Skin rash Anxiety or depression
  • Ahememia

Both celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity are managed with a gluten-free diet. It involves adhering to a diet free from foods and products that contain gluten, including:

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Cereals
  • Beer
  • Baked goods
  • Crackers
  • Sauces, dressing and gravies, especially soy sauce
  • Sulfites

Sulfites are substances that are mainly used as food and drink preservatives, as well as some medications. Additionally, certain foods like aged cheeses and grapes naturally contain them. Sulfites are added to foods like wine to stop bacteria from spoiling it and dried fruit to postpone browning. Sulfites are present in food and drink, and most people can tolerate them; however, some people are allergic to them.

Although sulfite intolerance is not exclusive to asthmatics, it is more common in those who have the disease. The following are typical signs of sulfite sensitivity:

  • A hive
  • Inflammation of the skin
  • swollen nose
  • Low blood pressure
  • Draining
  • Vomiting
  • Sighing
  • Coughing

In patients with asthma who are sensitive to sulfites, sulfites can even narrow their airways and, in extreme circumstances, cause potentially fatal reactions. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations require sulfites to be disclosed on the label of any food that has been processed using sulfites or that contains sulfites. Sulfite-containing food examples include:

  • a dried fruit
  • Wine.
  • Onion cider
  • canned veggies
  • Pickled
  • foods
  • Condiments
  • Potato
  • chips
  • Beer
  • Tea
  • Baked goods

In conclusion, it is critical for society at large as well as for individuals who are directly impacted to distinguish between food allergies and food intolerances. Food intolerances, though less severe, can still have a substantial impact on an individual’s well-being, and allergies can cause life-threatening reactions that require careful avoidance of allergens and emergency preparedness. With this knowledge, people can seek appropriate diagnoses, make educated dietary decisions, and get the support and resources they need.

Fostering empathy and inclusive environments is our collective responsibility as we navigate a world where food allergies and intolerances are becoming more common. We can guarantee that people with food allergies and intolerances have healthier, safer, and more satisfying lives by busting myths and misconceptions, spreading factual information, and pushing for increased awareness. Together, we can create a society where going out to eat is worry-free, where people with dietary needs can eat with confidence, and where it is widely acknowledged how important it is to accommodate these needs.

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