Food Allergies vs Sensitivities – What’s the Difference?
Ever found yourself dealing with a bad reaction to something you ate or drank a few hours ago? If you answered yes, did you take time to figure out whether this reaction occurred due to an allergy or sensitivity to the food in question?
Every day people tend to use these two terms interchangeably. Only experts, e.g., food researchers, nutritionists, and registered dieticians, can easily tell the difference between them.
Food allergies and food sensitivities differ in their seriousness, making it necessary to note their differences. Understanding their differences helps you know why their treatments vary. An allergy, for example, can bring about long-term adverse reactions if left uncontrolled.
How Can You Identify an Allergy and a Food Sensitivity?
A food allergy can easily cause a life-threatening health condition, e.g., breathing difficulties in adults. On the other hand, food sensitivity will only cause you to experience some discomfort, which may not last for long.
In the case of the former, a patient will typically experience symptoms over a prolonged period. Experts use several methods to diagnose an allergy, e.g., a skin allergy test or a blood screening test. They use these tests to confirm the presence of IgE or immunoglobin.
The two are antibodies commonly found in individuals suffering from a food allergy. If the tests prove inconclusive, an allergist may need further tests to confirm which foods a patient may be allergic to.
A food allergy will generally occur when your immune system identifies a dangerous food component. The recognition causes the immune system to overreact and begin the production of IgE antibodies.
The antibodies cause your body cells to release chemicals that may lead to breathing difficulties and inflammation. Experts refer to this reaction as anaphylaxis. Any amount of food inhaled, ingested, or touched by an allergic person can cause this type of reaction.
Symptoms related to anaphylaxis reactions often range in severity and may include:
- Respiratory related symptoms, e.g., breathing difficulties
- Itching and hives outbreaks
- Gastrointestinal symptoms, e.g., diarrhea and vomiting
- Inflammation on the skin
According to most medical experts, only nine foods can cause an allergic reaction. They include:
- Tree nuts
- Cow’s milk
Sesame got added to this list in 2021, after President Biden approved the Food Allergy, Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research Act of 2021. Known as the Faster Act, this legislation ensures that manufacturers include sesame as a major allergen in food labels.
In some cases, an individual could also develop an allergic reaction after getting bitten by a Lone Star tick. According to Mayo Clinic, this bite triggers the production of a sugar molecule which causes a reaction to red meat.
Researchers have suggested that the tick bite can cause an allergic reaction to:
Several people living in the southeastern U.S have reported such allergic reactions.
Treatment for a Food Allergy
The only treatment for a food allergy is to avoid the foods you suspect are causing the symptoms mentioned above. You may, however, come into contact with these food items, despite your best efforts to avoid them.
Luckily, there are several treatments for a food allergy. Examples include:
- You can use over-the-counter antihistamines to treat small/minor allergic reactions. The medication will assist you in dealing with minor symptoms, e.g., itching or a hives outbreak.
- Visit the ER if you experience more severe reactions, e.g., wheezing, severe inflammation, chest tightness, and breathing difficulties. Physicians in the ER will typically administer a steroid to treat this reaction.
- Make it a habit to start carrying an EpiPen if you have a history of experiencing severe allergic reactions. And ensure you replace it before it expires.
Food intolerances and sensitivities occur in your digestive system due to insufficient digestive systems. It may also occur due to the presence of a food additive. Their symptoms can occur immediately or get delayed by up to 72 hours.
Sensitivity symptoms include:
- Changes in your bowel movements
Most sensitivities are linked to food items such as:
Tips on How to Deal with Food Sensitivity
You should consult your primary health care provider as soon as you have started experiencing food sensitivity symptoms, e.g., bloating and nausea. The physician will check the severity of your symptoms and determine whether you need to visit a gastroenterologist.
In some cases, the physicians could ask that you maintain a food diary to help them establish the cause of this sensitivity. If you notice that the sensitivity occurs after eating or drinking a certain item, do what you can to eliminate it from your diet.
Experts recommend removing it from your diet for fourteen to twenty-one days. You can then start using it in small portions to determine the kind of tolerance you may have developed for it.
What to Do in Case of An Emergency
As mentioned earlier, several foods account for 90 percent of all allergic food reactions. They include:
- Tree nuts
Anyone who has a food allergy should stay away from these foods. Caretakers and parents of kids suffering from an allergy or food sensitivity issue should receive training on how to go about treating accidental ingestion.
EpiPens should remain readily available, with the caretakers and parents receiving training on how to use them. Please note that an allergic reaction can have severe effects if left untreated. Fortunately, learning institutions have taken steps to accommodate all learners.
Moreover, the government has taken steps to ensure that product labels provide clear information on whether processing occurs in a facility with allergens. If an injectable doesn’t work, make sure to visit an ER.
While food reactions are common, it may take a while to determine their causes. It’s a process that can prove challenging and time-consuming for the affected person but is usually worth the time and effort.
After identifying the problem and its common triggers, consult with a physician or nutritionist to assist you in developing a comprehensive diet. The diet will enable you to determine which foods are ideal for you and which ones aren’t safe based on past behaviors.