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HomeLifestyleHealthFood allergies and intolerances: Differences, symptoms, causes, prevention tips | Health

Food allergies and intolerances: Differences, symptoms, causes, prevention tips | Health

An allergic reaction to food is seen when the immune system mistakenly reacts to an otherwise harmless substance while on the other hand, a chemical reaction within the body occurs with food intolerance upon consuming certain foods or drinks. While mild to moderate symptoms of both conditions may resemble each other occasionally, it is crucial to acknowledge that only allergies involve the immune system and can lead to severe allergic responses. It is better to have a thorough understanding of what exactly is an allergic reaction and also learn about food intolerance.

Food allergies and intolerances: Differences, symptoms, causes, prevention tips (Shutterstock)
Food allergies and intolerances: Differences, symptoms, causes, prevention tips (Shutterstock)

Everything about food allergies and food intolerances

Did you know? Food allergy and food intolerance are often confused due to their similar symptoms but there is no similarity between them. In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dt Arti Singh, Consultant – Nutritionist and Dietitian at Motherhood Hospital in Mumbai’s Kharghar, shared, “Unlike food allergies, which trigger severe allergic reactions and involve the immune system, food intolerances do not cause severe allergic responses. So, allergy testing cannot identify food intolerances. Understanding what exactly food intolerance is can be complex since certain substances found in foods have been known to worsen migraines, cause skin rashes like hives, or contribute to digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome. Hence, seek the help of an expert who can guide you regarding this matter.”

He added, “The prevalence of food allergies is on the rise as people of all age groups are getting affected by it. During infancy, most allergies tend to manifest, and cow’s milk allergy is particularly common among young children. Fortunately, many children outgrow their cow’s milk allergy before starting school. Inheritance plays a role in the development of allergies. Children who have a family member with asthma or eczema are at a higher risk of developing allergies themselves. Interestingly, most children with food allergies do not have parents who also have food allergies. Nevertheless, if one child in a family has a food allergy, there is a slightly elevated risk for their siblings to also experience food allergies.”

Difference between allergies and food intolerances:

Dt Arti Singh revealed, “Allergies occur when the immune system reacts excessively to proteins, such as those found in foods, pollens, house dust, animal dander (including fur, wool, and pet-brought pollens), and molds. These proteins are known as allergens. The term allergy indicates that the immune system perceives a typically harmless substance as toxic. Food intolerance is a non-immune response characterized by a chemical reaction that certain individuals experience after consuming certain foods or beverages. Unlike allergies, food intolerance does not involve the immune system. It has been linked to conditions such as asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).”

The symptoms of food allergies:

One symptom that often signals a food allergy is hives. Dt Arti Singh said, “These raised, itchy patches on the skin can appear minutes or hours after consuming allergenic foods such as peanuts or shellfish. Hives can be accompanied by other symptoms like swelling of the lips, tongue, or face, which could indicate a more severe allergic reaction. Another potential sign of a food allergy is gastrointestinal distress. Individuals with food allergies may experience abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea after eating trigger foods. These symptoms typically occur within two hours but can also appear immediately after ingestion. Wheezing, persistent cough, dizziness and noisy breathing are some other signs to watch out for.”

According to Dt Arti Singh, the red flags of food intolerance are restlessness, shaking, perspiration, irregular heartbeats, headache, severe headache, loose bowel movements, tingling or stinging feelings on the skin and respiratory difficulties resembling asthma symptoms.

The causes of food allergies and intolerances:

Dt Arti Singh highlighted, “The majority of food allergic reactions are caused by peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, cow’s milk, wheat, sesame, fish, shellfish, and soy. Peanut allergy is particularly common in older children and only about one in four children will outgrow it. People who are sensitive to certain foods may experience intolerance reactions when consuming dairy products (such as milk, cheese, and yogurt), chocolate eggs (especially egg white), flavor enhancers like MSG (monosodium glutamate 621), food additives, strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes and red wine.”

How to prevent food allergies and intolerance?

Dt Arti Singh suggested, “Keep a food and symptoms diary to check for any unusual signs and inform the doctor without any delay. To promote a healthy gut, it’s recommended to consume a diverse range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fermented foods like yogurt. Additionally, avoiding excessive usage of antibiotics. Opting for breastfeeding for at least six months can also contribute to a healthier gut. So, to manage a food allergy or intolerance, try to remove the problematic foods from one’s diet. Occasionally, the body may develop tolerance towards the food if it is avoided temporarily and gradually reintroduced, especially in cases of food intolerance.”

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