Over the years, more and more people appear to be experiencing some level of discomfort after a meal or snack. Others are diagnosed with food sensitivities to unexpected ingredients, such as gluten, dairy, or egg.
Food allergies and sensitivities happen when our body develops abnormal immune reactions to certain foods we ingest, touch, or even inhale. The most significant difference is the speed of onset and the severity of the reaction. Read on to learn the symptoms of a food allergy, food sensitivity, and food intolerance.
With food allergies, such as allergies to seafood or peanuts, the reaction is relatively immediate and evident after ingestion or exposure. Food allergy symptoms may be critical or life-threatening, including severe hives, swollen lips, face, or throat, wheezing and chest tightness, difficulty breathing, dizziness, or loss of consciousness.
This is a true allergic reaction to seemingly benign substances like food. The exposure can happen through simply having contact with the trigger food, no ingestion necessary. Your doctor can test for food allergies via a scratch (aka skin test) or blood test. If someone has any food allergies, avoiding exposure to the allergen is the best practice to prevent a reaction. It is also wise to carry an Epi-Pen in case of accidental exposure or ingestion of the allergen.
Although the mechanisms and onset of food sensitivity are controversial, many medical offices are noticing an increase in patients suffering from various food sensitivities. A food sensitivity is similar to a food allergy, as it also involves an abnormal immune response in the body after ingestion of otherwise benign foods. Since this triggers an immune response in the body, food sensitivities can affect any organ in the body. As such, food sensitivity symptoms might include joint pain, headache, abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue, skin rashes, or brain fog. These symptoms can happen soon after ingesting food or may take up to 3 days for symptoms to show.
Unlike a food allergy, The reaction occurs only through ingestion of food, not through contact. The symptoms of food sensitivities are not life-threatening but could be intensive enough to affect normal daily activities. Food sensitivities can be confirmed by keeping a food diary or taking a blood test. A new food sensitivity can show up at any time in our lives, even during adulthood, and is also likely to change with time.
Eliminating these foods for weeks to months and reintroducing the one at a time back into the diet while monitoring the symptoms is essential for easing symptoms. It is also essential to address potential damage to the gut lining and to regulate immune function.
The mechanism of food intolerance is different from a food allergy or sensitivity. A food intolerance is caused by the body’s inability to digest or process certain foods. The most common example is lactose intolerance, which is due to the inability to digest and process lactase, which is a type of sugar present in dairy products, especially milk.
Usually, food intolerance symptoms are limited to the digestive system but may be similar to symptoms of food sensitivity. Likewise, food intolerances may cause significant discomfort. Avoiding the trigger food is the best way to prevent symptoms, but taking high-quality digestive enzyme supplements may be helpful too.
While food reactions are common, they can be challenging to figure out. Identifying the cause may be time-consuming, but it is worth the time and effort, as it may affect both your digestive system and overall health.