11. The difference between a food allergy and food intolerance.
Some people may think that food allergies and food intolerances are the same, but that is actually not true. Allergies cause a response in your immune system that can be life-threatening in some cases (via Healthline). In contrast, food intolerances cause a reaction in your digestive system (via NHS). If your body cannot tolerate certain foods, it means it’s that type of food intolerance. However, you may be able to eat a small amount of that food without experiencing any symptoms. If you have an intolerance, then you know that it can be uncomfortable.
Food allergies affect about 1% of the adult population and about 7% of children. However, like any other type of allergy, some children do outgrow their food allergies. Being intolerable to certain foods is actually more common. Nearly everyone has had some unpleasant reaction to something they ate at one time or another. Some people have particular food intolerances that they never outgrow. Take lactose intolerance, for instance. It’s the most common specific food intolerance, which affects about 10% of the American population.
10. More about the difference between a food allergy and food intolerance.
You can trigger food allergies even by the smallest amount you are allergic to. Every time you come in contact with or consume that food, you will have a reaction. People who have food allergies must avoid these allergic foods altogether. On the other hand, the cases of food intolerances are often dose-related, meaning people with food intolerance may not have symptoms unless they eat a large enough portion of the food or eat the food frequently (via NHS).
Someone with lactose intolerance, for example, may be able to drink milk in coffee or have a single glass of milk with no symptoms, but if they were to drink several glasses of milk in a short period, they would become sick. Food intolerances and allergies are also different from food poisoning, which generally results from tainted or spoiled food and affects more than one person eating that same food. If you feel that you may be food intolerant to something, your healthcare provider can help you determine if it really is intolerance or if you happen to have a food allergy. From there, your doctor will help you establish a plan to help control your symptoms.
9. The symptoms for the different types of allergies.
Again, with different types of allergies come different types of symptoms. If you have a food allergy, you may show signs of swelling, tingling in the mouth, swelling of the tongue, lip, face, or throat, or even anaphylaxis. With atopic dermatitis, you may experience itching, redness, and flaking or peeling of the skin. An insect sting allergy can cause a large area of swelling, also known as edema, at the sting site, itching, or hives that may appear all over the body, cough, chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath, or anaphylaxis.
If you have hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, you may experience a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, red, watery, swollen, or itchy eyes, called conjunctivitis (via Healthline). Symptoms of a drug allergy include itchy skin, a rash, hives, wheezing, facial swelling, or even anaphylaxis. Suppose you experience any of these allergic reactions. In that case, it is vital to contact your healthcare provider right away so that they can diagnose you properly and come up with a treatment plan with you quickly.
Some types of allergies, including allergies to insect stings or bites and food allergies, can trigger a severe reaction known as anaphylaxis. Although we already mentioned this, it’s essential to know precisely what anaphylaxis is and know if you are experiencing it. It is a life-threatening medical emergency, which can cause you to go into shock (via Mayo Clinic). So that is why it’s crucial to know what the signs are, so you know what to look out for.
The signs of anaphylaxis include a drop in blood pressure or even loss of consciousness (via Mayo Clinic). You could also develop a skin rash or experience severe shortness of breath. You could also experience a rapid or weak pulse, nausea and vomiting, and lightheadedness. If you happen to experience any of these symptoms after coming into contact with an allergen, get medical help right away. It’s also important to let your doctor know of these symptoms. That way, you can discuss a treatment plan. It will help you become aware of how to prepare and treat yourself if you go into anaphylaxis shock in the future.
Interestingly, most allergies are inherited, meaning parents pass them down to children. People tend to be allergic to things, although not to any specific allergen. If your child happens to develop an allergy to something, it is very likely that your partner or you also have allergies. The number of people who have any type of allergy increases across all sex, age, and racial groups. More than 50 million Americans, meaning 1 in 6, experience all kinds of allergies, including outdoor or indoor allergies, drug and food allergies, insect, latex, and skin and eye allergies (via Cleveland Clinic). With that being said, if you have an allergic reaction or an allergy diagnosis, don’t worry. You are not alone. Chances are good many people in your family already deal with that allergy. They can help you navigate how to deal with the symptoms and avoid triggers. That way, you can still have a happy, healthy life.
It’s not a good idea to wait and see if your symptoms go away if you think you have allergies. Make an appointment with an allergy or immunology specialist if your symptoms last longer than a week or two and tend to come back and repeat. Doctors often diagnose allergies by an allergy skin test, which helps identify the allergens causing your symptoms. They perform this test by pricking your skin with an extract of a particular allergen. Then the specialist checks your skin’s reaction to that allergen shortly after (via Cleveland Clinic).
If you cannot have a skin test performed for any reason, doctors may obtain blood work (via Healthline). However, this test is not nearly as sensitive as a skin test. A blood test evaluates the number of antibodies produced by your immune system, and the higher the levels of specific antibodies will suggest a possible allergy to that allergen. They can also perform other types of allergy testing.
5. Understanding different types of allergy testing.
Doctors can perform different tests to help diagnose someone with a specific allergy. Yes, there is the skin prick or scratch test. This is where the specialist uses a thin needle to prick the skin on your back or forearm. The specialist uses anywhere from 10 to 50 different potential allergens (via Cleveland Clinic). However, the doctor may decide to do what is known as a scratch test. This involves placing droplets of potential allergens onto your skin and using a device to puncture the area by scratching the droplet lightly. If your skin prick test results are negative or inconclusive, your provider may inject small amounts of the allergen into the outer layer of your skin, called an intradermal skin test (via Healthline). This test checks for allergies to medications, insect stings, and airborne irritants.
4. More details you should know about allergy testing.
Another test that was also already mentioned was a blood test. This is where the lab adds allergens to the blood sample and measure the levels of IgE antibodies in it. Blood tests, however, can give a higher rate of false-positive results. A different allergy test, called a patch test, can also be done. This test helps to determine the cause of contact dermatitis. A drop of an allergen on the skin of your arm is covered with a bandage. Sometimes, the dressing already has the allergen on it before placing it on your skin.
This bandage stays on for 48 to 96 hours (via Cleveland Clinic). After that time has passed, you are able to go home, of course. Then, you return, and they will remove the bandage to check your skin for a rash or any other reaction. Another test they can perform is called the challenge test (via Healthline). This test is done only under a provider’s direct in-person supervision. This is where someone who has a suspected food or drug allergy ingests a small amount of an allergen. This is why medical supervision is a must. If you develop anaphylaxis, your doctor can give an epinephrine injection to stop the potentially life-threatening reaction.
You can buy over-the-counter allergy test kits or online at your local drug store. However, these tests are not very reliable. Some of these tests don’t test for the correct antibodies (via Cleveland Clinic). You are also more likely to get a false positive, which may lead you to avoid unnecessarily certain foods or substances (via Cleveland Clinic).. However, you can understand why some would instead go the home testing route over going into a clinic to get testing done professionally. Not all health insurances fully cover the cost of allergy tests at your healthcare provider’s office. The costs for testing can range anywhere from $200 up to $1000. It’s a good idea to ask your insurer about your plan’s policies, so you know what to expect from them. It’s best to get allergy tests with a medical expert, of course, even with the costs of having them done. They not only are more accurate, but they can also read the results to you and discuss any treatment options with you, as well.
There are a few things you can do if you have an allergy. Depending on the allergy you may have, your healthcare provider may recommend one or more different options that you can do to help treat your allergies. Antihistamines can reduce or even prevent allergic rhinitis and other symptoms, so taking a daily allergy medication may be suggested (via Cleveland Clinic). Easier said than done. Your doctor may also suggest minimizing exposure to allergens. For example, avoiding allergens that cause severe reactions, such as certain foods or latex, will help.
You can also get allergy shots to treat your allergies, as well. This type of immunotherapy can decrease the immune system’s response to specific allergens like pet dander. Having a medical alert card, bracelet, or necklace with you is also a good idea (via Mayo Clinic). This card or medical alert jewelry lets others know about your severe allergy. It tells others that you could have an anaphylactic response to bee stings, peanuts, or other allergens. Carrying epinephrine on you if you happen to have a severe allergy with major side effects is also essential. This is in case you are at risk for an anaphylactic allergic reaction. Does somebody nearby know you have an allergy? If you cannot administer it yourself, they can use it on you.
1. Complications from having an allergic reaction.
With allergies and allergy symptoms, there come complications in most cases. Having an allergy to anything increases your risk of specific other medical problems, so talking with your doctor about your allergies and symptoms is a good idea. More mild complications, but still important to treat are sinusitis and infections of the ears or lungs (via Mayo Clinic). Your risk of getting these conditions happens to be higher if you have hay fever or asthma (via Mayo Clinic).
If you have yet to be diagnosed with asthma but have an allergic reaction to anything, your healthcare provider may bring it up. Suppose they don’t mention it; in that case, you should. Asthma is an immune system reaction that affects your airways and breathing. In many cases, exposure to an allergen in the environment triggers it. This is known as allergy-induced asthma. As mentioned, anaphylaxis is a significant complication. If you have severe allergies, you are at an increased risk of this severe allergy-induced reaction no matter what it’s to. The most common triggers of anaphylaxis are medications, food, and insect stings.