Some of the symptoms of food allergy and food intolerance are so similar that people often get confused. Knowing the difference between the two is very important.
Food allergy is a state of your body’s reaction to a food that could be life-threatening, while food intolerance can make you feel miserable.
A food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects several organs in the body. The symptoms may include breathing problems, throat tightness, hoarseness, coughing, vomiting, abdominal pain, hives, swelling, or a drop in blood pressure.
In food intolerance, either the body can’t properly digest the food that is eaten or that a particular food might irritate the digestive system. The symptoms of food intolerance can include nausea, gas, cramps, abdominal pain, diarrhea, irritability, nervousness, or headaches.
Dr. Mohsin Wali, MBBS, General Physician and Medicine at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital Delhi said, “Food allergy is an acute process which happens when you eat something which creates an antigenic stimulation in the body. It can be fatal. Food intolerance, on the other hand, can be caused by some foods. Milk is the most common one to cause food intolerance. Such intolerance is Lactose intolerance. The prevalence of food intolerance is ten times more than food allergies.”
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“There have been more cases of food allergies than ever because we now are consuming a lot of packaged and preservative food which is dangerous for our health. Food allergies can lead to health problems like rickets. Food allergies are genetically inherited. To avoid food products which you are allergic to is the best option.” he added.
Physical reactions to some foods are common and most of them are caused by a food intolerance rather than a food allergy. Initially, the reactions can be mild but in some cases these reactions may progress to more serious conditions. For example, eating a microscopic amount of the food, or sometimes even touching or inhaling it, could lead to anaphylaxis.
In food intolerance, you may be able to eat a small amount of the offending food without any trouble. You can also prevent a reaction to it. Like in lactose intolerance, you may be able to drink lactose-free milk or take lactase enzyme pills (Lactaid) to help digestion.
Recent studies have found that up to 40-50 per cent of eczema cases in young children are triggered by food allergy. 90 per cent of allergies are caused by some food products like milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy. However, any food can cause an allergic reaction.
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Causes of food intolerance
The absence of an enzyme is needed to fully digest food. The most common example of food intolerance is Lactose intolerance.
Irritable bowel syndrome: This chronic condition can cause cramping, constipation, and diarrhea.
Sensitivity to food additives Food sensitivity is a common cause of food intolerance like sulfites is used to preserve dried fruit, canned goods and wine can trigger asthma attacks in sensitive people.
Recurring stress or psychological factors: Sometimes, stress and psychological factors can too make you feel sick. Even a thought of a food product may make you feel uneasy. The reason for this is not fully confirmed.
Celiac disease: Celiac disease has some features of a true food allergy because it involves the immune system. Symptoms of gastrointestinal issues as well as those unrelated to the digestive system, such as joint pain and headaches are common. However, people with celiac disease are not at risk of anaphylaxis. This chronic digestive condition is caused by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains.
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If you see any symptom or reaction eating a particular food then you must see a doctor immediately. The doctor can determine whether it is a food allergy or food intolerance and can start the medications accordingly.
If it is a food allergy, then maybe at at risk of having a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Learn how to recognize a severe allergic reaction and know what to do if one occurs.
If you have a food intolerance, your doctor may recommend steps to aid digestion of certain foods or to treat the underlying condition causing your reaction.