A food allergy is when the body’s immune system reacts as though it needs to fight off disease. The first exposure to the offending food has no outward effect on the body. But on the inside, an antibody called IgE is created against that particular food. The next time that food is ingested, it binds to the antibodies that are now floating around in the system and triggers an actual reaction like cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gas, hives and even difficulties breathing.
An allergic reaction takes place immediately after eating or can take up to several hours to manifest. If the reaction is going to be as severe as an anaphylactic shock, it will usually occur within the first hour after ingestion. Anaphylactic shock is deadly and requires immediate medical attention. The symptoms are wheezing, difficulty breathing, swelling of the tongue and throat, and fainting. Usually if someone knows they have an anaphylactic reaction to a certain food they will carry an auto-injector of epinephrine with them to counteract the reaction.
Some of the more common food allergies in children include peanuts, soy, milk, wheat and eggs.
Food Sensitivities or Intolerance
Generally, the words sensitivity and intolerance are used interchangeably. A sensitivity actually has nothing to do with the immune system. The symptoms in this case stem from an inability to digest the food. Symptoms (commonly nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and bloating) usually appear about half an hour after ingestion but can also take up to 48 hours to really show themselves. Heartburn and headaches are also indications of food sensitivity or intolerance.
Two of the most common food intolerances are dairy and gluten. That’s why, in my practice, dairy and gluten are two substances I ask my patients to eliminate when we are testing to see how their body responds on and off these foods. Not everyone who has sensitivity to gluten has Celiac disease. The latter is completely different, where any gluten consumed actually damages the intestinal lining.
Some Key Differences Between Food Allergies And Sensitivities
An allergic reaction can occur even when only a tiny amount of the allergen is present. For a sensitivity to be detected, generally a normal portion size needs to be consumed.
An allergic reaction happens more immediately, whereas a sensitivity can make itself known days later.
An allergic reaction can be life-threatening but a sensitivity is not.