You may have noticed in recent years that more and more people are allergic or intolerant to various foods. Food allergy and food intolerance can affect people of any age. In each case, normal healthy food can cause symptoms in people who have these conditions. There are distinct differences between these conditions that you should be aware of. Your immune system normally protects you from disease- causing bacteria, parasites, and viruses as well as harmful toxins that you encounter in your environment.
However, if you have a food allergy your immune system sees food as being just another environmental threat to your health. Food intolerances don’t involve the immune system. They can be due to an inability to digest food properly or maybe even a tendency to react to certain food components. For instance, if you have lactose intolerance, this is because you have a deficiency in the enzyme lactase that helps you digest milk and dairy products. Or maybe you get headaches after eating strongly flavored cheese. If so, you may be reacting to a chemical called tyramine. However, for a great many food intolerances, we just don’t know what causes them or why some people react to certain foods.
Is this just another example of food poisoning?
Absolutely not. When somebody gets food poisoning, they have probably eaten food that was contaminated with harmful bacteria or maybe even toxic chemicals. However, if you are allergic or intolerant to a food, it doesn’t matter how hygienic, nutritious, delicious, or desirable that food is, it has the potential to cause symptoms if you eat it. Everybody else can eat the food and it is probably a very healthy choice for them to do so. But the person who is allergic or intolerant has to avoid it.
Symptoms of Food Allergy and Food Intolerance
It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of food allergy and food intolerance. These can range from mild to severe depending on how sensitive the person is. People often get confused between food allergy and food intolerance. Usually, both will have some type of symptoms. For the most part, these are associated with digestion and include nausea, constipation, stomach pain, diarrhea, and so on. Other symptoms of a mild food allergy can include hay fever-like symptoms and skin symptoms such as eczema, dermatitis, or hives. A severe food allergic reaction includes many of these symptoms
- Fall in blood pressure,
- Swelling in the throat and mouth
- Severe hoarseness or wheezing
- Persistent cough
- Pale color
If this happens the person may be experiencing “anaphylaxis”. This can be fatal and the person must
receive medical attention immediately. Thankfully, fatal allergic reactions to food are very rare.
What kind of foods are associated with reactions?
On the island of Ireland, the most common food allergy is to the egg. Other significant allergenic foods are peanuts, nuts, milk, and sesame. Throughout the European Union, fourteen foods are recognized as being the most significant for food allergies and intolerances.
How common are food allergies and food intolerance?
The rate of food allergy is 1-2% of adults and 5-8% of children. For food intolerances well it’s anybody’s guess. The estimates vary wildly with some authorities saying it may be as high as 40-45% of the population.
What should you do if you think you may have a food allergy or food intolerance?
Self-diagnosis is certainly not advised: you may end up cutting out foods that cause you no harm at all. You should go to your doctor who may arrange for a blood test to check for allergies. You may be referred to a dietician as well if you have a suspect food intolerance.