Allergies are much more common than you think. In fact, almost one in every three people suffers from allergies – whether to pollen, cats, house dust, foods, drugs or chemicals. Most of these people, especially those intolerant to foods don’t even know that they are because they are hidden or masked by minor symptoms that you don’t usually associate with allergies. That is because food allergies and food intolerances are actually DIFFERENT.
A food allergy is an inappropriate and harmful response of the immune system as it mistakes perfectly normal substances and treats them as invaders. Allergic symptoms can range from relatively minor rashes through to general swelling and even as a potentially fatal anaphylactic shock. An allergic reaction can occur quite rapidly, often within minutes but generally within a maximum of two hours. These are generally known and avoided by people because of the uncomfortable response to eating them.
A food intolerance is quite different, it is not life threatening, although it can and does make the sufferer feel unwell. It is very difficult to identify the food that is causing the problem as symptoms can appear up to 48 hours after the food is eaten. Food intolerance symptoms generally come on gradually and don’t involve an immune system reaction, but rather digestive problems. If you have a food intolerance, you may be able to eat small amounts of the offending food without trouble. What is most important to note is that if your digestive system is not happy, or if you have uncomfortable symptoms that you can’t identify – it may be that you have a food intolerance.
Causes of food intolerance include:
- Absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a food – Lactose intolerance is a common example.
- Irritable bowel syndrome – This chronic condition can cause cramping, constipation and diarrhea.
- Food poisoning – Toxins such as bacteria in spoiled food can cause severe digestive symptoms.
- Sensitivity to food additives – For example, sulfites used to preserve dried fruit, canned goods and wine can trigger asthma attacks in sensitive people.