Food allergies vs. Food intolerance
True food allergies are not all that common, and occur in only about 4 percent of the population.Most of the time, people actually have a food intolerance.
Food allergies develop when your immune system mistakenly thinks a food is harmful. IgE antibodies latch onto white blood cells, causing the release of chemicals. These chemicals, such as histamine, cause allergic symptoms that can range from mild to life threatening. These may include tongue and throat swelling, sneezing, difficulty breathing and skin reactions such as itching and hives. Often, gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping may also occur. Symptoms usually show up immediately or within the first two hours after eating the problematic food.
- Eight foods account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions in the United States. They are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans), wheat, soy, fish and shellfish.
- Food allergies are more common in children than adults, and are frequently outgrown.
- There is no cure for food allergies. Strict avoidance of the allergen, along with early recognition and management of the allergic reaction, are important measures to prevent serious health consequences.
Food intolerances, on the other hand,do not involve the immune system. The problem occurs in the digestive system, usually when a person does not have certain enzymes or chemicals needed to digest a particular food. This can cause symptoms ranging from GI issues (diarrhea, bloating, gas) to headaches, mood changes and certain skin conditions. Symptoms can be immediate or delayed.
- Common food intolerances include lactose, fructose, gluten and some artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol and xylitol.
- Typically, small amounts of the identified food can be eaten without experiencing symptoms.
- The treatment of food intolerance simply involves the avoidance of the trigger food.