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Food Allergy or Food Sensitivity?

By DuPage Medical Group Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

Many people avoid a variety of foods because they believe they have a food allergy. The truth is that many of these people do not have true food allergy, which is defined as an IgE-antibody-mediated reaction to a food. Rather, a large number of people who believe they have a food allergy actually have food sensitivity, which is defined as a non-IgE-mediated intolerance to foods. Examples of food sensitivity include lactose-intolerance and intolerance to spicy foods. In actuality, anyone who has a food-related discomfort should avoid the suspected foods regardless of the mechanism.

They symptoms of food allergies may include swelling or itching of the lips, mouth and/or throat. Other symptoms of food allergies may include nausea, vomiting, cramping, diarrhea, itching, hives, flushing, eczema, wheezing and shortness of breath. The most severe example of an allergic reaction to food is life-threatening anaphylaxis (an overwhelming allergic reaction) which may include many of the symptoms described above and may occur within seconds to minutes of a food exposure. Sadly, there are fatalities every year due to food allergies. A key feature of a food allergy is that it usually is not dose-dependent, meaning that even a very tiny exposure to a food may result in a severe reaction.

In contrast to a food allergy, the symptoms of food sensitivity are usually limited to the gastrointestinal tract (nausea, vomiting, cramping, bloating or diarrhea). Also in contrast to a food allergy, food sensitivity is dose-dependent, i.e. the greater the dose, the greater the symptoms.

A note of caution: if you have food-related symptoms, please consult your physician. Do not risk exposure to foods that may have caused you discomfort or other symptoms without expert advice.

Topics and Subtopics: Allergies

Learn more about:
Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
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