There are many people who will tell you that they have a food allergy when they might really have food sensitivity.
What is the difference? While food allergies and food sensitivities can both leave you feeling terrible, a true food allergy can be fatal.
They may have similar symptoms – nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting, but there are differences. Food allergies affect our immune system and affect the whole body, not just your stomach. Food sensitivity occurs when your body cannot properly digest a particular food. Food allergy symptoms usually come on suddenly, a small amount of the food can trigger the reaction, it happens every time you eat the food, and it can be life threatening. On the other hand, food sensitivities usually come on gradually, it may only cause symptoms when you eat a large amount of the food and is not life threatening.
Food Allergy symptoms:
- Rash, hives or itchy skin
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Sudden drop in blood pressure, trouble swallowing or breathing – this is life-threatening and you should call 911.
Food Sensitivity symptoms:
- Gas, cramps, or bloating
- Irritability or nervousness
There are eight common foods that cause 90% of food allergy reactions: peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, milk, eggs, soy, and wheat. The two most common foods that cause sensitivity are lactose in milk and gluten although we can be sensitive to a wide variety of foods including some of the ones that cause allergies!
How can you prevent or treat food allergies or sensitivities? It is best to visit your doctor or health practitioner if you have experienced any of the above symptoms after eating. Your doctor can do testing but may also recommend that you keep a food diary or stop eating some foods that you suspect may be causing the problems.
If you have a true food allergy, you will have to totally avoid the food. If it is food sensitivity, you may be able to eat small amounts of the food without causing a problem.
Food Allergies. Clemson Cooperative Extension. http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/food/nutrition/nutrition/special_needs/hgic4158.html
Food Allergies and Sensitivities. http://food.unl.edu/allergy/allergy-sensitivity
Food Allergy, or Something Else? http://www.webmd.com/allergies/foods-allergy-intolerance?
Written by: Marilyn Rabe, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Franklin County.
Reviewed by: Tammy Jones, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Pike County.