Q. What is a food allergy?
A. In a true food allergy, a person’s immune system mistakenly identifies a specific food as a harmful substance. The immune system then creates antibodies to fight the food (the allergen). The next time the person eats even the smallest amount of that food, the antibodies sense it and signal the immune system to release histamine and other chemicals into the bloodstream, which then causes a range of allergic symptoms.
Symptoms can include dripping nose, itchy eyes, dry throat, rashes and hives, nausea, diarrhea, labored breathing and even anaphylactic shock.
Q. What is a food intolerance?
A. A food intolerance is a digestive system response rather than an immune system response. Food intolerance occurs when the body is not able to properly digest the food or something in the food irritates the digestive system.
For example, a person may have difficulty digesting lactose in milk products because he does not have enough of the necessary enzymes to break it down. This can result in bloating, cramping, diarrhea and excess gas.
Other causes of food intolerance may be unknown, but the person can experience a wide range of symptoms when eating the food, including sweating, rapid breathing, headaches, diarrhea, fatigue, irritability, heartburn, nausea, muscular aches and pains. Food intolerance is much more common than food allergy.
Q. Is celiac disease an allergy or intolerance?
A. Celiac disease (also referred to as gluten intolerance) involves both the immune system and digestive system. It is not considered a food allergy, but rather a chronic autoimmune disorder of the intestine. When a person eats gluten, the lining of the small intestine gets damaged, making it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients.
Q. What is a food sensitivity?
A. Food sensitivity is a broad term that is used when it is not clear if the adverse reactions to a food are caused by an allergy or an intolerance. Therefore, a food sensitivity can mean either an allergy or an intolerance.
Q. Can children outgrow food allergies?
A. Children often outgrow their food allergies by the time they are three years old – especially to soy and milk products. They can also outgrow egg allergies by the time they are 5 or 6 years old. However, children allergic to shrimp, tree nuts, and peanuts usually have the condition for life.
Q. What are the most common food allergens?
A. There are eight food allergens which account for 90% of all documented food allergies and are the most likely to cause severe or life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis).
• Tree nuts (such as almonds, walnuts and cashews)
• Fish (such as bass, cod, flounder)
• Shellfish (such as crab, lobster, shrimp)