Allergies or Intolerance?

“It must have been something I ate.”

Lauren Weber, D.O.

Oh, that dreadful feeling that comes after we’ve eaten something that doesn’t agree with us. While it’s one thing to have an occasional bout of food poisoning, it’s quite another to have a reaction to food because of a food allergy or food hypersen-sitivity, says Lauren Weber, D.O., right, of the Center for Women’s Health in Fairfield.

A reaction to a certain food is more likely to be an intolerance because your body can’t properly digest a food, or food irritates your stomach. It isn’t life-threatening and usually comes on gradually rather than suddenly.

“A food allergy is much more serious. It’s an abnormal response by the body’s immune system to a certain food, and the response affects your whole body, not just your stomach. Symptoms range from uncomfortable to life-threatening and can include hives, asthma, itching and/or swelling in the mouth or throat, trouble breathing, stomach pains, or vomiting and diarrhea. The symptoms begin within minutes
to hours after eating the food,” Dr. Weber explains.

Food intolerance doesn’t affect the immune system, but can offer some of the same symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting and diarrhea. It can also cause gas, cramps and heartburn.

Surprisingly, only eight foods cause the majority
of severe food allergies: milk, eggs, wheat, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, fish and shellfish, Dr. Weber adds.

Eggs, milk and peanuts are the most common causes of food allergies in children, with wheat, soy, and tree nuts also included. Peanuts, nuts, fish and shellfish cause the most severe reactions.

Nearly 18 percent of those under age 18 have food allergies, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID). Some children may outgrow their allergies, but peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish are usually lifelong problems.

Treating a food allergy in adults can depend on your age, overall health and medical history, as well as extent of the disease. The first step in managing life-threatening allergies is to always avoid your allergens.

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