If you have food sensitivities or allergies, you might not be able to enjoy food as much as others can. Food allergies and sensitivities both have the potential to cause discomfort, but only allergies can be life-threatening. It’s important to be aware of the distinctions between the two and get tested for both, as many people are unaware of the difference.
Read on to learn more about the differences between food sensitivities vs. food allergies.
What are food sensitivities?
Food sensitivity is a reaction to a specific food or foods that is not life-threatening and happens after a delay.
The symptoms of food sensitivity can be delayed for a few days after ingesting the food, unlike those of a food allergy. People with food sensitivities may not realize they have them for years because the reactions and symptoms (such as diarrhea or bloating) can be delayed and are also common in other conditions.
How to spot a food sensitivity
There are a number of common issues that can be related to your body’s reaction to certain foods. They include:
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Headaches or migraines
- Stomach pain
If you often feel bloated, gassy, or uncomfortable after eating, it’s possible that you have a food sensitivity. However, it’s also possible to have food sensitivity and not experience any symptoms. If you’re constantly feeling uncomfortable after eating, it’s worth considering speaking to your doctor and taking an at-home food sensitivity lab test. This will help you to identify any foods you may be reactive to.
After you have tested yourself and gotten your results, you should think about doing a two-part temporary elimination diet, which includes keeping a food journal. This will help you figure out if your reactivities are connected to the symptoms that made you decide to take the test.
If you need to buy groceries but are on an elimination diet, our food sensitivities grocery list will make it easier. Whenever you’re testing a new food, be sure to include nutrient-rich substitutes so you’re not missing out on key nutrients.
Common food sensitivities
There are some foods that are more likely to cause sensitivities than others. If you’re feeling uncomfortable after eating any of these foods or food groups, you should talk to your doctor.
Although the cause is unknown, dairy sensitivities are quite common. This makes it difficult to determine what causes an individual’s symptoms, as they may not experience them until some time after the trigger.
If you think you might be lactose intolerant, you should talk to your doctor instead of just assuming that you are sensitive to dairy products.
Some people may be sensitive to gluten or wheat. A protein found in wheat and rye grains, as well as common carb items such as crackers and beer, is gluten. If you have a gluten intolerance, eating products that contain gluten will cause symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or constipation.
What are food allergies?
A food allergy is a reaction of the immune system to a specific food that can be life-threatening. The reaction is caused by histamine and can cause symptoms such as hives or difficulty breathing. Your immune system produces IgE antibodies in response to a food you’re allergic to. These antibodies cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
The severity of food allergies can range from mild to severe and can start at any age. They can develop an allergy to a food that they have eaten and enjoyed for years with no symptoms. Food allergies are different from sensitivities in that they can be life-threatening and eliminated diets will not work. You should speak with your physician if you think you might have a food allergy.
How to identify a food allergy
A healthcare provider can help you figure out if you have a food allergy and what kind it is. They can do a skin prick test or a blood test for IgE antibodies.
The symptoms of food allergies are more severe than food sensitivities. The symptoms of a food allergy typically occur soon after eating the offending food, sometimes within minutes. In some cases, though, they may not occur until hours later.
Common symptoms of food allergies include:
- Abdominal cramping
- Coughing or wheezing
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Flushed skin, rash, or hives
- Swelling of the face, tongue, and/or lips
- Tingling or itchy sensation in mouth or throat
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
A food allergy elimination diet is not recommended as it can be potentially life-threatening. Some children may outgrow their allergies as they age.
Having a child with allergies that have been diagnosed by a physician can be tough. If you want to ensure your child is safe while they are at school or at a friend’s house, you should consider using allergen stickers for their food.
The texts provide clear information on the allergens that your child is sensitive to and gives clear guidance to teachers, babysitters, or other parents on what they can and cannot eat.
Common food allergies
around 90 percent of all food allergies are caused by eight foods: eggs, milk, peanuts and tree nuts, fish and shellfish, wheat, and soybeans. The severity of allergies to these foods can vary from mild (such as itching after eating) to severe (such as anaphylaxis). You should speak to your doctor to figure out what your treatment and management plan should be.
To manage your allergy at home, avoid foods with allergens and carefully read food labels.
Egg allergies are caused when your immune system has a reaction to proteins found in either the egg whites or the yolks. This reaction is caused by IgE antibodies.
If you’re allergic to chicken eggs, you might also be allergic to other types of eggs, such as quail, goose, or duck. Your healthcare physician can help you figure out which ones. Egg allergy symptoms can occur after coming into contact with eggs, either through eating them or touching them. These symptoms can manifest as skin reactions, difficulty breathing, stomach pain, or even anaphylaxis.
If you are allergic to eggs, it is best to avoid them altogether as egg yolks and whites can be difficult to separate completely. talk to your doctor about what you can and can’t eat
Children often have allergies to milk and dairy products, but many adults develop sensitivities or allergies to certain dairy products later in life. An allergy to milk can cause a range of symptoms, including hives, abdominal pain, vomiting, bloody diarrhea (especially in infants), and anaphylaxis.
If you’re allergic to cow’s milk, you’re likely also allergic to milk from other animals, like goats and sheep. Contact your healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms further.
The most common and severe symptom of a peanut or nut allergy is anaphylaxis. However, people with nut allergies can experience a range of symptoms, from mild to severe.
There are two different types of allergies, peanuts and tree nuts, and a person can be allergic to peanuts without being allergic to tree nuts (and vice versa). A person can also be allergic to all legume and nut varieties, such as peanuts, walnuts, etc. It is important to consult with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your nut allergy.
4. Fish and shellfish
A few people are not naturally allergic to fish with fins (e.g. salmon, halibut, cod) but they may develop this allergy later on in adulthood. However, a good number of children are already allergic to fish. You can be allergic to one type of seafood but not the other. If you have a fish or shellfish allergy, you should ask your doctor for advice.
The most common shellfish allergies are those caused by crustaceans, such as shrimp, lobster, and crab. These allergies most often develop in adulthood, but can also affect children.
Some people who are allergic to shellfish can eat mollusks, such as oysters and mussels, without having a reaction. Shellfish are prone to cross contamination, so it’s important to be cautious when eating any type of seafood. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before trying any other seafood.
Diagnosing and treating food allergies
There is no one definitive way to diagnose a food allergy. Different people may have different ways of testing for food allergies. FARE is a top food allergy non-profit organization, and even they say that “current methods of diagnostic testing for food allergy are often inconclusive.”
Although a high level of food-specific IgE in your blood may indicate an allergy, it may also be a sign of sensitization, which is when your body reacts to eating the food often. A diagnosis for this issue requires a medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests like an IgE allergy test. In some cases, an oral food challenge might be necessary to confirm the diagnosis.
The mainstay of treating a food allergy remains simple:
You must completely eliminate the offending food. A dietitian can help you follow your new diet by helping with tasks like reading food labels, dining out, and staying allergy-free.
In addition to receiving an injector pen filled with doses of adrenaline, people who suffer from severe food allergies are also provided with a way to immediately use it if they are potentially exposed to the food they are allergic to.
Some allergies like milk, egg, wheat and soy allergies can go away as children get older. An indoor allergist who is certified by a board can help you by doing periodic testing and oral food challenges when necessary.
Recently, specific treatment plans aimed toward desensitization have been developed and can be used under strict medical supervision. These plans consist of repeated exposures to minuscule but increasing doses of the offending food (Oral Immunotherapy or OIT).
Ways your body can react to food
There are several ways that you can have a reaction to food, depending on how your body reacts to it.
Here’s a quick example of a bodily reaction:
If your immune system produces antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE) in response to a food allergen, then you have an allergy.
The antibodies in the immune system trigger the release of histamines in cells, which leads to an inflammation response known as an allergy. Here are common examples of the different ways your body can react negatively to a certain kind of food:
Immunoglobulin E (IgE) mediated (Allergy)
This is what is considered a true food allergy. The body’s immune system will cause it to produce more antibodies than normal in order to fight against a foreign substance. The ‘offender’ in this context is a food, rather than a virus or bacteria. An allergy to this type of food can lead to anaphylaxis, which is the most severe and life-threatening allergic reaction. This reaction can happen within minutes of eating the food.
Non-IgE mediated (Allergy)
In these conditions, the body’s immune system will react, but the IgE antibodies are not involved in this type of allergic reaction and would not show up on an IgE test. These types of reactions include oral allergy syndrome and the serious FPIES (Food Protein Induced EnteroColitis Syndrome) diagnosed in infants as a reaction often to milk, soy, or cereal grains.
Mixed IgE mediated (Allergy)
There are conditions that can occur either as an allergy (IgE-mediated reaction) or as a non-allergy (non-IgE-mediated reaction). A good example is Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EOE). EOE, which is also known as “the asthma of the esophagus”, can cause food to become impacted and cause dysphagia, which is when it feels like food is stuck in your throat. Eosinophilic esophagitis can be treated either by following an elimination diet and avoiding common trigger foods, or by taking certain medications like steroids. One or more additional biopsies are usually needed every few months to keep track of the disease’s decrease in size.
Non-immune mediated (intolerance)
These common reactions are not involving the immune system. Food reactions typically happen in the digestive tract. Difficult reactions are ones that are hard to find without the help of a physician. These include issues with the digestive processes like not being able to break down lactose or starch. You may also be intolerant to histamine-rich foods (e.g. aged cheeses) or have issues with food additives or food coloring. These are digestive issues that aren’t caused by our immune system We are typically talking about non-immune mediated food issues when we talk about food intolerances. These are digestive issues that aren’t caused by our immune system.
Dealing with food allergies and sensitivities can be difficult, especially when it comes to going out to eat or ordering takeout. However, it doesn’t have to be a major problem in your everyday life. You can take back control of your diet by carefully monitoring what you eat and discussing your dietary habits with your doctor. This way, you can find foods that make you happy and help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.