Allergy or Food Intolerance
It is estimated that in the United States there may be as many as 15 million people who suffer from food allergies and of these approximately 100 to 200 allergy sufferers will lose their life each year in an acute reaction to the food they consume. Those are the extreme cases but food sensitivities are not an issue that anyone should take lightly.
It can be important to know if your tummy ache is just a tummy ache or if it is a signal to something potentially more. More serious symptoms could signal a food intolerance or a possible allergy reaction to one or more foods that you are consuming. At times it can be difficult to know if that after dinner bloating is a simple consequences of consuming a little too much food or potentially something more serious.
The main difference between food intolerance and an allergic reaction is the involvement of the immune system. Our immune system is designed to fight potential threats within the body. It is an amazing mechanism designed to protect the body from illness. Germs, bacteria, infection and disease are all attacked as they are detected.
Every now and then though something goes wrong and the immune system reacts with an over sensitivity resulting in it confusing healthy non threatening as a foreign entity that is a threat to its security. The body attacks itself in an effort to remove this invader.
The immune system creates antibodies to fight the offending substance and future ingestion of this triggering agent then result in the immune system launching a more aggressive attack against the intruder. The immune system releases a chemical battle which is the cause of the symptoms involved in an allergic reaction. When your immune system gets involved then your sensitive tummy is more than just a routine annoyance. This is the difference between a food sensitivity and an allergy.
Symptoms can vary dramatically from mild to severe. An allergic reaction can be quite mild and involve nothing more than a tingling of the lips, a runny nose, a tummy ache or a slight rash. Reactions can also include breathing and swallowing difficulties, hives, reddening or itching of the skin, eyes or throat, or very serious involvement of the cardiovascular or respiratory system.
A severe reaction can cause swelling of the tongue, larynx, and trachea resulting in an inability to breath followed by collapse. An allergic reaction can be very dangerous. It can be severe enough to result in death.
This is why it is so important to recognize when you are indeed suffering from an allergic reaction. Your immune system may increase its attack and the next ingestion could be much more severe than the one that you suffer in the first few encounters with the triggering agent. This is the second major difference between a food intolerance and an allergy.
A food intolerance may have uncomfortable consequences but it is rarely dangerous whereas allergies can be extremely hazardous to your health. Negative consequences of milk consumption often occur due an intolerance to lactose but this generally does not involve the immune system.
Although the symptoms of intolerance may sometimes appear the same as those involved in a mild allergic reaction with gastrointestinal discomfort appearing in the form of indigestion, flatulence, bloating, acid reflux, diarrhea, loose stools or other similar symptoms. These symptoms usually do not progress past being uncomfortable and are usually just caused by our difficulty in digesting certain foods.
Consult with your doctor if you suspect a food allergy. A blood test can often confirm the presence of immunoglobulin-E (IGE) antibodies produced by the immune system and specific to the food groups that trigger the allergic reaction.
A skin test can also be performed where small amounts of the offending food product are injected just under the first layer of skin. A skin allergy to that substance will usually result in a rash or hive appearing at the location of injection indicating an allergic reaction.