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  • Writer's pictureTristan

Food allergies and intolerances


To begin with, it is important to explain what an allergy and intolerance are to understand their differences. An allergy involves the immune system which reacts against a specific protein in the food eaten. The body thinks that it needs to fight against the protein as being harmful, but it actually isn’t. On the other hand, an intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system. Moreover, an intolerance only leads to symptoms if the quantity of the ingested substance is important. Whereas an allergy can be triggered with only a small trace present in the food.

The main food products causing allergic reactions, also known as allergens, are eggs, milk, nuts, soya, fish, crustaceans, molluscs, mustard, celery, gluten, lupin, and sulphites. For those involved in intolerances, it is much harder to list specific products as there are much more possibilities. However, two main ones are getting more and more attention: gluten and lactose.

Most people who are allergic or intolerant notice their problem themselves through uncomfortable symptoms and therefore go to their doctor. People allergic to certain food can experience itching and swelling of the mouth or throat a few seconds or minutes after ingesting the allergen. Skin rashes, difficulty swallowing, and dizziness can also be experienced. If it happens often, you should talk to a doctor in order to determine the problem as an uncontrolled allergic reaction can be lethal.

For people with intolerances, reactions are normally less important compared to allergic reactions, and they are not lethal. Symptoms range from digestive discomfort to skin rashes similar to allergic reactions. As intolerance symptoms are not lethal, it is possible to seek the food triggering the symptoms on our own. One of the most common methods is to fill a food diary, noting down every food item eaten as well as the symptoms (if any) and their time of appearance. When you have a few ideas of the foods that could trigger the symptoms, remove them one by one to observe the changes on the symptoms. It is important to take time as it could take multiple weeks to notice any changes. After a few weeks without a specific food item, and if the symptoms decreased or disappeared, reintroduce the food to observe if the symptoms come back. If so, this food item is probably causing the symptoms.

Once the allergy or the intolerance diagnosed, there are not many things to do. The more direct one is to eliminate the specific food item from the diet. For food allergies, it can sometimes be hard as the specific food can be common in meals, and therefore, makes it difficult to eat in restaurants as the food served could have been in contact with the allergen. For food intolerances, as a simple trace will not trigger symptoms or a lethal reaction, it is less dangerous to eat in restaurants. For food intolerances, it can also be useful to find the maximal dose at which the food item can be ingested without the appearance of symptoms. Many research are also undertaken to find a cure or medicine allowing people with allergic food reactions to decrease or even remove their symptoms after ingesting an allergen. This could save many lives.

If someone with allergic reactions ingests the specific allergen, it needs to be dealt with quickly as it could be lethal. Antihistamines are medicines that aim at reducing mild to moderate allergic reaction symptoms. Those with allergic reactions are advised to keep some on hand. In extreme cases, adrenaline can be used to alleviate severe symptoms such as anaphylaxis.

To conclude, it is important to differentiate food allergies and intolerances as they are not dealt with in the same way. In both cases, it is advisable to see a doctor and not to diagnose yourself as it could lead to not treating an existing medical condition not related to the diet. In most cases, removing the specific food item triggering the symptoms is the best solution to make. However, as a result of the presence of many allergens in most meals, it is essential for people with allergic reactions to be ready to counter the symptoms.


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