Food Allergy Or Food Intolerance? How To Determine Which Is Which

With the huge variety of foods available in supermarkets today, people have more control than ever over their diets. And this is definitely a good thing – consider how many people are on some sort of dietary restriction, whether it's gluten-free for medical reasons or refined-sugar-free for health reasons or meat-free for ethical reasons.

If you're considering removing a food from your diet because you think you may be allergic to it, it's important to know the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance. Food allergies can be serious – and even fatal – and it's important, if you think you have one, that you get an official diagnosis.

What Is The Difference Between Intolerance And Allergy?

As far as symptoms are concerned, a food intolerance usually manifests as gastrointestinal irritation. This is because food intolerances mean that your body is incapable of digesting a certain type of food. Thus, people who get sick after drinking milk are likely lactose intolerant, and people who can't properly digest gluten are gluten intolerant.

Food allergies are different. If consuming foods with gluten causes an autoimmune response, then you have a gluten allergy, not intolerance. Some people who think they are lactose intolerant may actually be allergic to milk. Other common food allergies include peanuts, shellfish, and eggs. The difference in symptoms is that the immune system is involved; while there may be gastrointestinal distress, there are often also skin rashes or itching, difficulty breathing, a runny nose and watery eyes, and in extreme cases, anaphylaxis and the complete inability to breathe.

How Can You Find Out If You Have A Food Intolerance?

Because the symptoms of food intolerance are less serious than an allergy, it's more common for people to self-diagnose things like lactose or gluten intolerance. However, it's possible to go to a doctor and be tested for food intolerance. This can be a good idea if you're hesitant to restrict your diet; after all, fortified milk is full of vitamins and minerals, and many foods containing gluten are very healthy for people without intolerance.

Often, doctors will use elimination diets to see whether removing a certain food stops your gastrointestinal symptoms. However, there are also more specific tests for lactose intolerance and gluten intolerance. Lactose intolerance can be tested by measuring the hydrogen in your breath after consuming dairy products, while gluten intolerance is often tested with an endoscopy to look for signs of intestinal damage.

How Can You Find Out If You Have A Food Allergy?

If you think you have an allergy, you should definitely see a doctor to have it officially diagnosed. Once you know you are allergic to a food, it will become very important to avoid exposure to it. Food allergies are usually diagnosed with either a blood test or a skin prick test. Both tests look for an immune system response to various food allergens.

The allergens that are tested will depend on your prior history with reacting to certain foods. If the test confirms that these prior reactions were caused by a food allergy, you should discuss with your doctor the next steps. You will certainly have to avoid this food in the future; depending on the severity of your allergy, you may have to avoid other foods prepared in the same kitchen or with the same utensils.

To learn more about allergies and intolerances, contact a doctor's office such as Allergy Asthma & Immunology Center.