Recently, food allergies have become a hot topic of conversation across the country. Specifically, more and more people have been self-diagnosing themselves as being “allergic” to gluten or lactose. However, this is a misconception, albeit a popular one. A recent survey found that 1/3 of the American public believes they have some form of food allergy. To clear up some of these misconceptions, here’s a closer look at both food sensitivities and allergies and the differences between the two.
Whereas food allergies only affect around 15 million people, an estimated 65 percent of the population has some form of sensitivity. One of the most common forms of food sensitivity is lactose intolerance. Lactose is a type of sugar enzyme that is present in dairy products like milk, cheese and ice cream. People who are lactose intolerant can’t metabolize the enzyme and experience symptoms like fatigue, stomach discomfort and diarrhea when they eat lactose rich foods. Celiac disease, which prevents sufferers from processing gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, rye and barley, is a less common food sensitivity that presents with symptoms similar to lactose intolerance.
Food allergies are the result of a dysfunctional immune response. The immune system of someone with a food allergy will recognize certain foods, such as peanuts or shellfish, as an invading virus. Once that classification occurs, the next time someone comes in contact with the incorrectly classified substance, their body will release a large amount of histamine. This immune response can produce symptoms such as a sudden outbreak of hives, swelling of various parts of the body, nasal congestion, abdominal pain and in some cases, potentially fatal anaphylactic shock.
The Difference between Food Sensitivity and Food Allergy
The most significant difference between food sensitivity and allergy lies in their severity. If someone who is lactose intolerant eats a bowl of ice cream, they would experience mild discomfort. If someone who is allergic to peanuts ate a ham sandwich that was just made on the same counter as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, they might need to go to the emergency room. An inability to digest certain foods is not the same as having an allergic reaction to certain substances. Only a qualified medical professional can diagnose someone as having either condition, and adjusting your diet to treat a self-diagnosed case of food intolerance may lead to the development of a serious illness, like vitamin deficiency. If you believe that you may be suffering from either food sensitivity or food allergy, contact us today to set up an appointment. Dr. Shukla has the knowledge and skills to prescribe an appropriate treatment for either disorder.