From a young age, we’re taught the basic signs of an allergic reaction, from mild symptoms like itchiness to severe ones like swelling of the tongue and throat. However, some of us have never experienced hives or anaphylaxis but still feel crummy after eating certain foods. You may have even undergone a skin prick or blood test to rule out mild allergies and received negative results.
So, if you’re not allergic, should you keep eating those problem foods anyway? Not necessarily – you could have what’s known as a “food sensitivity.”
As it turns out, defining “food sensitivity” isn’t as easy as it seems. This imprecise catchall term has been used to describe everything from tummy troubles to low-grade inflammation caused by diet.
From a medical perspective, “food sensitivity” doesn’t mean much other than a reaction that isn’t a true food allergy. A true food allergy is a full-body immune system reaction that can occur as soon as a few seconds after consuming or even just touching a food. An allergic reaction can be delayed and can recur hours after initial onset. Symptoms range from skin problems, like itchiness, tingling and hives, to digestive issues like nausea, cramps, vomiting and diarrhea, to respiratory complications like wheezing, throat tightness and swelling of the airways. A severe food allergy can cause immediate death, whereas food sensitivity does not.
It is much harder to pinpoint what a food sensitivity actually is. When someone has a food sensitivity, it may mean they have a food intolerance or some sort of chronic discomfort associated with eating specific foods.
A food intolerance most often occurs when your body does not produce the right enzyme to properly digest a certain food. Unlike allergies, food intolerances are generally localized in the digestive system and will not cause serious reactions like trouble breathing or death.
As an example, many American adults have lactose intolerance because they do not produce an enzyme called lactase. People with lactose intolerance may experience bloating, gassiness, diarrhea and stomach pain after drinking milk or eating ice cream. However, if they were to take a pill that introduced lactase to their system, or if they drank milk or ate ice cream with the lactose removed, they would not have any sort of adverse reaction.
Many other substances can also cause gut distress, such as:
- Food dyes
- Additives and preservatives like sulfites
- Amines like histamine
- Sugars like fructose
- A side note on gluten: Celiac disease in an autoimmune disorder affecting the small intestine, whereas non-celiac gluten sensitivity describes uncomfortable symptoms that arise when eating products that contain gluten, like wheat.
Many people find themselves fitting into neither the “true food allergy” nor the “food intolerance” camp. They do not experience the telltale signs of an allergy, but they still have complaints besides the digestive issues that accompany food intolerance. These could include:
- Heartburn and acid reflux
- Joint pain
- Eczema, rosacea and rashes
- Acne breakouts
- Mood changes
- Runny nose
Such food sensitivities are especially hard to diagnose because symptoms can occur days after eating the offending food. If the food you are sensitive to is a staple of your diet, you may feel ill all the time without knowing why.
What You Can Do
First, you want to make sure you don’t have a food allergy or celiac disease by going through testing with an allergist and gastroenterologist. If those results come up negative, you may want to work with a dietitian to craft a safe elimination diet. During this process, you are put on a very limited diet in order to eliminate any foods that may upset your body. Once you are feeling better, foods are gradually added back into your diet until you find the culprit. The best cure for food sensitivity is simply avoiding that food altogether.
Receive Medical Treatment at Complete Care in Texas and Colorado
The uncertainty surrounding food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances may have you wondering if you’re in danger or experiencing psychosomatic symptoms. However, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. When in doubt, seek out medical care for any suspicious reactions to food. If you believe you may be experiencing anaphylaxis, it’s important to call 911 or go to an emergency room right away.
At Complete Care, we understand that navigating a diet can be a frustrating and exhausting experience, especially if you don’t know which food is causing your reactions. You can come to us whenever you have an allergic reaction, nausea, vomiting, rashes or any other concerning symptoms. Our medical providers are equipped to provide thorough and effective care at all hours, day and night. Visit the location nearest you for care today.