Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

feeling fine

Distinguishing a food allergy from a food intolerance

Ten minutes after eating shrimp scampi at a restaurant, Karen's lips swelled and she had difficulty breathing. Sandra, also seated at the table, had pasta carbonara and experienced bloating and abdominal cramping later that night. Both went to see the doctor, thinking they had developed a food allergy.

It is easy to confuse food allergy and food intolerance, but the two are vastly different and a food allergy could be life-threatening.

Many Americans think they have food allergies, but true food allergies are quite rare, occurring in less than 5 percent of the population. In the United States, fewer than 200 people die annually from food allergies.

Reactions to food allergies occur immediately, within two hours or less, while food intolerance reactions are delayed, sometimes occurring up to 72 hours after a particular food has been ingested.

In the case of a food allergy, a small amount — even traces — of food can trigger a reaction, and reactions occur every time the food is eaten. With food intolerance, reactions occur only when a lot of the food has been consumed or when that food is eaten frequently.

A food allergy can be life-threatening, causing anaphylaxis. Symptoms include generalized hives, tongue or throat swelling, difficulty breathing or swallowing, and a drop in blood pressure. Symptoms of food intolerance include gas, bloating, abdominal cramps, heartburn, headaches, low mood and eczema. Food allergy and food intolerance can both cause nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting.

Ninety percent of food allergies are caused by peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, milk, eggs, soy and wheat. The most common triggers for food intolerance include wheat, gluten, milk, fruits and vegetables.

If you have a food allergy, your immune system has developed a specific immunoglobulin to a specific food, and when you encounter that food, your body undergoes a predictable chemical reaction that leads to an allergic reaction. Having allergies, asthma or a family history of such things increases your risk of having a food allergy. Food intolerance can be caused by a number of factors, including the lack of an enzyme needed to digest a food. With lactose intolerance, for example, there is a lack of the enzyme lactose.

Two chronic conditions included in the category of food intolerance are irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease. IBS causes cramping, constipation and diarrhea. Celiac disease involves the immune system and is triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains. Food allergy to wheat is determined by an allergy skin-prick test, whereas celiac disease is diagnosed by a blood test or intestinal biopsy.

If you have symptoms after eating a food, an allergist can determine whether you have a food allergy or a food intolerance. It might be helpful to keep a log of what you have eaten, what symptoms occurred and when.

Because a food allergy can be life-threatening, avoiding the food is essential, as is carrying an EpiPen. If you have a food intolerance, it can be managed by limiting or avoiding certain foods or taking medication to help manage the symptoms.

Dr. Mona V. Mangat and Dr. Ami K. Degala are board-certified allergists and immunologists at Bay Area Allergy & Asthma in St. Petersburg.

Distinguishing a food allergy from a food intolerance 07/10/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 10, 2014 6:13pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Why are so few Tampa Bay houses for sale? They're being rented

    Real Estate

    Oreste Mesa Jr. owns a modest 40-year-old house in West Tampa just off MacDill Avenue. It's an area where many homeowners are hearing the siren song of builders and cashing out while the market is strong.

    Attorney David Eaton poses in front of his rental home at 899 72nd Ave. North. in St. Petersburg. He's among a growing number of property owners who see more value in renting out unused homes than selling them. 
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  2. In a word, Hernando school leaders say, first day was 'smooth'

    K12

    Over and over on Monday, school district leaders used the same word to describe the unfolding of the first day of school in Hernando County.

    "Smooth."

    Third-graders Teagan Ferguson, left, and Brianna DeLaine deliver attendance figures to the office at J.D. Floyd Elementary School on Monday. Superintendent Lori Romano and other district administrators toured a handful of schools and classrooms throughout the day,
  3. Looking Back: Diana, America's Favorite Princess

    Celebrities

    The Washington Post, in her obituary, called her "the most photographed woman in the world." She was loved in England for saying, after her divorce from Prince Charles, "I'd like to be a queen of people's hearts." Americans loved her for her work with charitable causes supporting victims of AIDS and landmines. Aug. 31 …

    Prince Charles and Princess Diana on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on their wedding day.

(AP Photo)
  4. Rays morning after: 5 mistakes that led to loss to Blue Jays

    Blogs

    We've already documented elsewhere what the Rays didn't do, how they failed to take advantage of a prime opportunity to win Wednesday's game, getting just one run after loading the bases in the seventh with one out and three of …

    Jake Faria make too many mistakes, the failure to execute costing him repeatedly.
  5. Unborn baby dies, two critically injured in Largo crash

    Accidents

    LARGO — Two people were critically injured and an unborn baby was killed in a crash that shut down an intersection on Ulmerton Road late Wednesday night, the Florida Highway Patrol said.