Focus on food allergies
Monday 31st March
Examining the difference between allergy and intolerance, with input from specialist charity Allergy UK
Q: What happens with a food allergy?
A: When a specific food is eaten, the body can have an allergic reaction and produces antibodies to fight it. Next time you eat – or come into close contact with – the same food, your immune system will respond by producing antibodies which release histamine and other chemicals.
Q: What are the symptoms?
A: Symptoms vary, depending on where in the body these antibodies are released.
- Stomach: abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea
- Skin: itching, swelling, rash
- Upper airways: runny nose, blocked nose, sneezing
- Lower airways: wheeze, cough, difficulty breathing.
In rare cases (such as anaphylaxis) the reaction is severe and requires emergency medical treatment.
Q: Are food allergies on the rise?
A: Yes, and the incidence of food allergy in children is rising particularly rapidly, affecting between six and eight per cent of youngsters (according to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, 2011). In this country alone, hospital admissions for food allergies have increased by 500 per cent since 1990.
Q: So what's the difference between allergy and intolerance?
A: People often confuse the two terms, however symptoms of a severe allergic reaction to food generally occur immediately (from seconds to 30 minutes) and may include:
- tingling and swelling of lips/tongue/throat
- tummy pain, vomiting, diarrhoea
- runny or blocked nose
- wheezing, difficulty breathing
- rapid pulse
- faintness and collapse.
Intolerance describes a range of symptoms and illnesses related to food. Symptoms are usually delayed and include:
- an urgent need to go to the loo
- joint pain
- runny nose, blocked nose
- irritable bowel type symptoms.
Q: What should I do if I suspect I have a food intolerance?
A: Keep a careful record of all the food, drinks and snacks – and supplements – you take for two weeks, along with any symptoms you may experience. Include precise dates and times; Then make an appointment to see a dietician and take your food diary with you. It will help the dietician determine whether you have an intolerance or not.
For information about allergies (including food allergies), what causes them and how to minimise their impact you can call the Allergy UK helpline on 01332 619898.
Members of benenden health can call the 24-hour GP advice line to talk to a doctor about any health concerns they may have.