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A food allergy is an immune-mediated reaction. It happens when the immune system mistakes a protein in the food ingested as harmful. This causes it to produce antibodies to fight the “foreign” protein. An allergic reaction then happens from the reaction between the antibodies and the foreign protein.
Food intolerance, on the other hand, is a digestive system-related reaction to food consumed. The reaction occurs when a person’s digestive system fails to properly break down a certain type of food. A good example is lactose intolerance, where the digestive system cannot digest lactose, a sugar found in dairy products.
How to Differentiate Between Food Allergy and Food Intolerance
Food allergies are more serious compared to food intolerance and may need immediate medical attention. Some people with food allergies may outgrow them, while others learn to avoid what triggers the discomfort. Food intolerance is a common disorder, and a food intolerance test can confirm it.
Even the smallest portion of an allergen triggers a food allergy. People with these allergies should avoid triggering food. When it comes to food intolerance, it can only happen if a person eats large amounts of the offending food.
For example, a person with lactose intolerance can take a glass of milk without experiencing any discomfort unless they drink the milk in large quantities. You have to differentiate the two from food poisoning, though, which results from eating spoilt or contaminated food.
Signs and Symptoms of Food Intolerance and Allergies
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As mentioned earlier, the symptoms of food intolerance affect the digestive system and are not severe. They include diarrhea, bloating and constipation, vomiting, nausea, stomach pain, and headaches.
On the other hand, the signs and symptoms of a food allergy may be a bit serious and may require immediate medical attention. In some cases, if not adequately treated, it can cause death. Some of them include skin rashes, shortness of breath, fainting, throat swelling, chest pains, and cramping stomach pains.
In other cases, allergies cause anaphylaxis, which is an acute allergic reaction that causes a drop in blood pressure, unconsciousness, or death.
What Causes of Food Allergies?
Food allergies result from the immune system’s reaction to foreign antibodies found in natural foods. These allergies are most common in family lineages with a history of the same, making them genetic.
The first time you ingest a foreign antibody, the immune system releases immunoglobulin E (IgE) molecules to fight the foreign body. The next time you ingest an allergen, the immune system releases the IgE and chemicals like histamine to help fight the antibody.
Histamine may affect other parts like the gastrointestinal tract or the respiratory system. It is what determines which area of the body the allergic reaction will occur. It is true because where histamine reacts, that becomes the affected area.
For example, if histamine reacts around the ear, nose, and mouth, you could develop itchiness around the areas, difficulties in breathing, or throat swells. If it reacts on the skin, you develop rashes. If produced around the gastrointestinal tract, it causes stomach pains or even diarrhea.
What Causes of Food Intolerance?
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As previously mentioned, food sensitivity is mild, controllable, and commonly affects the digestive tract. Some of the causes include the following:
- Lack of the right enzymes: These are chemical substances that help with the digestion of proteins in different food types. For example, the lack of lactase needed to digest the lactose found in milk causes lactose intolerance.
- Sensitivity to chemical additives found in food for enhancing color, taste, and acting as a preservative: A good example is sulfites mostly found in wine, and canned foods may cause breathing problems to allergic people.
- Irritable bowel syndrome: It is an intestinal discomfort that causes constipation, pains, and diarrhea.
- Psychological factors such as stress can make you sick after consuming a particular type of food, but the reason is unknown.
Treatment of both Food Allergies and Food Intolerance
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Eight foods contain at least 90% of food allergens, and they include milk, soybeans, shellfish, wheat, eggs, tree nuts, fish, and peanuts. It is advisable for people with food allergies to avoid these foods and replace their benefits with non-allergens.
Parents and caretakers of allergic people and the sick need training on how to handle accidental intakes of allergens. These people need to learn how to inject antihistamine to control allergies.
If you’re sensitive to certain foods, you need to learn how to reduce the food that triggers the intolerance in your meals and how to support your digestive system. A great way to do this is by talking to a medical practitioner for expert advice.
In today’s world, food sensitivity and allergy are prevalent, and with all kinds of foods and drinks available in the market, one needs to be careful about what they consume.