If you've ever had a bad reaction after eating something and wondered whether you might have a food allergy, you're far from alone. And with the multitude of foods available today, people have a great deal of control over their diets, so it only makes sense to try to eliminate any foods that are causing you trouble. But while you may be worrying about missing a food you plan to cut from your diet, you should know that food allergies are very serious – and if you think you have one, you need to be sure.
Allergy vs. Intolerance: What's The Difference?
The first key thing to know is that not all bad reactions are caused by allergies. People with lactose intolerance, for example, have a bad reaction to dairy products that contain lactose – but this is not because they are allergic to it. Instead, their bodies can't digest it properly. If a food irritates your body or you can't digest it, you're intolerant.
While food intolerance can be a pain, food allergies can have very serious consequences. Allergies are reactions that involve the immune system – when someone who is allergic to shellfish is exposed to it, their immune system goes into overdrive, releasing chemicals into the body. This can cause reactions ranging from mild itching in the mouth to anaphlaxis – a potentially deadly full-body allergic reaction.
How Do You Know If You Have An Allergy?
Some of the symptoms of intolerance and allergies can be very similar, causing nausea, vomiting, stomach and intestinal pain and diarrhea. But immune symptoms are a key sign that your problem is an allergy and not an intolerance: symptoms like rashes, hives, itching, and difficulty breathing.
If you have experienced those sorts of symptoms in reaction to any foods, you should consult an allergist, such as Allergy Asthma & Immunology Center, for diagnostic testing. A diagnosis of food allergy is done through a combination of your reported symptoms and the results of various tests.
How Do These Tests Work?
Usually, you will be given a blood test, a skin prick test, or both. In a skin prick test, you will be poked with tiny probes containing food allergens; if your immune system reacts, the spot where you were pricked will develop a small bump. The blood test measures your blood for an immune response to food allergens, and the results take a little longer – at least a few days.
Because of the possibility of false positives and cross-effects between similar foods, your allergist will discuss your results with you and use them in combination with your past experiences to make a diagnosis.
What Do You Do If You're Allergic?
The main treatment for food allergies is to avoid the food you're allergic to – depending on your sensitivity, that might even mean avoiding foods that have come in contact with your trigger food or that have been prepared in the same place. It's very important to pay attention to food labels and read ingredients.
Even with caution, sometimes mistakes happen. Your allergist may, if your food allergy is severe, also give you syringes of epinephrine to self-administer in case of accidental exposure. It's also a good idea to make sure your family and friends know of your allergy so that they can help should anything happen.
And above all, make sure you discuss all your concerns with your allergist and follow their instructions carefully. A food allergy is more than an inconvenience, but with a little caution, it can be managed very successfully.