How often have you heard someone say they are allergic to gluten? ‘Gluten-free’ has become such a prevalent buzzword in recent months that it might feel like people with gluten allergies are popping out of the woodwork. Of course, the number of people with Celiac disease versus a gluten intolerance versus those trying gluten-free for the health benefits can really muddy the waters of understanding. In medical terms, there is a difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity. If you have issues with certain foods, understanding the difference can help you better care for your health. Here’s what you need to know:
A food allergy is an immune system response, just like an allergy to pet dander or certain types of pollen. Food allergies occur when your body’s immune response sees a protein in certain foods as an invader. This is why food allergies often include a group of foods from the same family, such as nuts or shellfish, rather than a single food item. When a protein is recognized as an invader, the immune system will produce antibodies to fight off the invader, which causes an immediate reaction within the body. The result can be fatal, as the immune response can include:
- Anaphylaxis — a severe allergic reaction that can cause low blood pressure, swollen tongue and/or throat (and thus, trouble breathing or a blocked airway), dizziness, fainting
- Skin reactions — itching and swelling that may lead to hives
- Digestive issues — bloating, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea
Some allergic responses, especially anaphylaxis, require medical treatment. Anaphylactic reactions in particular require an injection of epinephrine, usually with an EpiPen. Without treatment, allergic reactions to foods (and other allergens) can be fatal. It is important to note that even if you have never had an anaphylactic response previously, you may still have one in the future.
A food intolerance or food sensitivity can cause many of the same reactions within the body; however, food sensitivities are generally not as serious. One of the biggest differences is that food sensitivities do not trigger a response by the immune system the way a food allergy does. Food intolerances and sensitivities occur when the body either cannot break down or reacts to a food. Generally, the reaction is limited to digestive issues rather than an immune response throughout the body. Often, this means those with a food sensitivity can eat small amounts of the foods/drinks with little or no trouble. In some instances, the reaction to certain food intolerances can be prevented, e.g., by taking Lactaid before drinking milk.
The most common reactions to food sensitivities and intolerances include gas, bloating, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, and constipation — all responses that occur in the digestive system. The upside is that, if you have a food sensitivity or intolerance, you can at least handle accidentally eating something you shouldn’t. The downside is that there may not be much you can do for the discomfort outside of over-the-counter digestive medicines and being careful about what you eat. For some, complete removal of the offending food from the diet for an extended period of time may help to reduce symptoms.
If you feel you may have a food allergy or food sensitivity, it is important to get tested to determine what it is giving you issues. The problem is that an allergy test and a food sensitivity test provide different results because the body reacts differently to an allergy than it does to an intolerance. Even if you have already gone through a formal allergy test, you may want to be tested for food sensitivities too. An unknown food sensitivity can lead to other chronic health concerns like migraines, arthritis, ADD/ADHD, chronic skin rashes, autoimmune diseases, and more. Get more information and schedule your appointment in Peoria; contact Senara Health and Healing Center & Spa today.