Some people react negatively to certain foods but does a dichotomy exist between an allergy and intolerance? If you have a food intolerance, it means that once you eat that food, your body cannot properly digest it. Or rather, your digestive system is irritated by that particular food or ingredient. If this is the case, eating that food will usually result in nausea, diarrhoea, cramps, abdominal pain, among other symptoms. Usually, even if you are intolerant to a certain food, you may be able to eat it without much trouble. You can do this by consuming only small amounts of the food, or substituting certain components, such as drinking lactose-free milk, for example, if you have lactose intolerance.
There are various reasons why one might develop an intolerance to a certain food. These include:
- An absence of the enzyme required to digest a particular food, for instance in the case of lactose intolerance.
- Toxins that may be present in contaminated food leading to food poisoning.
- Some food additives that are used in preservation of foods may trigger attacks in sensitive people.
- There are times when the thought of a particular food may make one feel sick. This psychological factor has however not been fully understood.
- People with celiac disease react to foods containing gluten in the same way that people with food allergies do.
A food allergy, on the other hand, is a more serious condition. When one is allergic to a particular food or ingredient, their body’s immune system reacts to the presence of that food in the body as it would to an invader. An allergic reaction involving the release of histamine in the body results, leading to breathing problems, tightening of the throat, vomiting, a drop in blood pressure, swelling and even abdominal pain, among others. An allergic reaction can be life-threatening (anaphylaxis) and can be triggered by something as simple as eating microscopic amounts of the food or even inhaling it.
Food intolerance and food allergies usually exhibit similar symptoms, which is why many people confuse the two. If you have a severe food allergy, you should always carry an emergency injectable epinephrine, as well as totally avoid the problem foods at all times.
If you are not sure whether you are allergic or intolerant to particular foods, you should speak to your doctor who will help you clearly determine which of the two categories you belong to. This way, you will always be prepared because if you are truly allergic to a certain food, you should take steps to ensure you do not place yourself in a life-threatening situation.