Allergy Vs Intolerance by Holly Angus
What’s the difference?
You may have heard people say they are intolerant to a certain food or even that they are allergic, but what does that really mean, and do they know themselves?
In the UK, it is estimated that around 44% of British adults suffer from at least one allergy, making the UK one of the highest prevalence rates of allergic conditions in the world. According to the World Allergy Organisation more than 150 million people in Europe suffer with an allergy or allergic disease.
Food intolerances involve the digestive system, but allergies cause a systemic response from the immune system. A food allergy often has an immediate reaction and requires medical intervention to improve symptoms and avoid further harm. An allergic reaction can occur at any age and can cause a range of reactions varying from the most common form of allergy – allergic rhinitis caused by hay fever, to anaphylaxis – a potentially fatal reaction. Other severe reactions include facial swelling, severe itching of the throat and/or a rash which covers the body.
An intolerance, or a food sensitivity, can occur when a person has difficulty digesting a certain food such as wheat, dairy and eggs. This can cause intestinal discomfort such as excess gas, abdominal pain or diarrhoea. Food intolerances can be improved with a food exclusion diet and replacing the foods with alternatives, such as non-dairy milks, or wheat free products. Although not life threatening, intolerances can cause such discomfort, they disrupt peoples everyday lives if left untreated.
Common food allergies include peanuts, milk, eggs, shellfish and some fruits and vegetables such as kiwi. The best way to avoid an allergic reaction is to identify the food causing the reaction and remove it from the diet. A person who is diagnosed with a food allergy often carries with them a shot of adrenaline, such as an EpiPen, which can be self-administered if a reaction were to occur.
If you suspect you or your child has an allergy to food, the symptoms often appear quickly after consumption. You should make an appointment with your GP and be referred to an allergy doctor for definitive tests. These tests could include a skin prick test, a blood test or a food elimination diet with reintroduction to see if the symptoms return. There are many alternative tests on the market which claim to detect allergies but should be avoided due to poor evidence and are often unreliable. These include vega testing – which claims to detect allergies by measuring changes in your electromagnetic field, kinesiology testing – which studies the muscle responses, and hair analysis.
If you have been diagnosed with a food allergy or feel you have a food intolerance and require further information or help with eliminating foods, please make an appointment with Holly, our clinical dietitian today.