This article came about because I was asked to do a talk for a local womens group about food allergies. As I began to put my ideas down on paper I started to realise that for many people there is alot of confusion surrounding the concept that allergies and intolerances are not the same thing and so I decided that this would be the basis for my talk. I myself have an intolerance to yeast but to be honest I find it easier to tell people I am allergic to it because this is what is more easily understood. The most common allergies and intolerances come from milk, eggs, nuts and fish but realistically your body could react to any food at all. So here is my explanation of the two terms and how they differ.
An allergic reaction to anything, not just food, is immediate, severe and in some cases can be fatal. Whereas intolerance reactions can take up to 2 days or sometimes longer before they are experienced. Contact needs to be in larger volumes to have an effect unlike an allergy, for example for those allergic to peanuts simply being in the same room as them is enough to produce an immediate and serious reaction. Yet for me I can eat a small slice of pizza and not experience any symptoms for several hours.
Allergy symptoms range from rashes, inflammation, vomitting, tummy pain, respiratory symptoms, wheezing and the most extreme reaction of all - anaphylactic shock. Intolerances on the other hand can cause a feeling of general unwellness which is often related to digestive issues such as bloating, diarrhoea, constipation or IBS. There can also be skin problems and joint pain as well. These issues can be long term if the intolerance is not pin pointed and can have a great impact on the persons psychological wellbeing as they begin to restrict their lifestyles to accomodate their health problems.
Allergies are caused by the immune system reacting badly to the food as if it were a toxin trying to harm the body. The immune system releases antibodies to fight the food which causes the symptoms. It is known that intolerances are not to do with the immune system but there have been no conclusive studies done to determine an exact cause. Links have been made to poor eating habits such as irregular meal patterns involving a great deal of convenience foods, diets which are high in fat or low in fibre. The body sometimes responds to additives in the form of an intolerance too. In the case of lactose intolerance it is however known that the body does not produce enough lactase which is used to digest the lactose in milk.
Childhood and Adulthood.
Food allergies can occur at any age although it has been found that the earlier it develops in a child the worse the symptoms tend to be. If the child has not grown out of it by the age of 6 it would be expected to last their full life span. My son has a lactose intolerance and has been doing well since he was 6, however he has been warned that it may flair up during puberty as the hormones are not as well balanced. Those who develop an allergy or intolerance in adulthood will find that their symptoms will be life long.
The most obvious treatment for any allergy or intolerance is avoidance through careful monitoring of food consumption. Always asking about the contents of any dishes that are ordered from any kind of eatery and checking all food labels when shopping. In reasonably mild reaction cases an antihistamine can be taken to ease the symptoms. During a reaction the body releases histamine to fight the unwelcome food therefore an antihistamine works against this chemical to suppress the bodys response. In more severe cases adrenaline is used in an auto injector, commonly known as an epi pen, it provides a very quick treatment in emergencies by reducing the blood vessels and helping to open up the airway. This is the best treatment for anaphylactic shock, the GP will issue a pen to anyone whose allergic reaction could potentially put their life at risk. It is always recommended that if you are at all concerned that you may have an allergy or intolerance that you see a doctors advice. Before attending the doctor it is important to have as much information as possible to assist the assessment. A food diary should be kept including all symptoms experienced inorder to highlight any patterns that may be present. There are 2 tests that can be used to determine some allergies, but these are far from 100% accurate. A skin prick test can be used where a small amount of the food suspected of being the problem is inserted into the skin. Inflammation or a rash would demonstrate a positive allergy result. There is also a blood test that can be used but inorder for this to be effective you must continue to eat the alleged problem food which many people are averse to doing. An elimination diet should be used under the supervision of a trained professional, often once the food has been completely eradicated by the body if it is an intolerance that the person has the food can be slowly reintroduced and tolerated in small amounts. There are also certain vitamins and minerals that can assist with alleviating symptoms to a certain extent. Vitamin C, calcium and magnesium all contain properties that can reduce symptoms and it is therefore advantageous to ensure a good intake of foods rich in these to help manage any pains or discomforts experienced.