Food allergy or food intolerance affects nearly everyone at some point. When people have an unpleasant reaction to something they ate, they often think that they have an allergy to the food. In fact, one out of three people say that some member of their family has an allergy to food that has necessitated a change in their diet. Actually, however, only about 1% of adults and 3% of children have clinically proven allergic reactions to food.
Food intolerance also is an abnormal response to food, and its symptoms can resemble those of food allergy. Food intolerance, however, is far more prevalent, occurs in a variety of diseases, and is triggered by several different mechanisms that are distinct from the immunological reaction responsible for food allergy.
Listed below are some fast facts about food allergy symptoms:
- All of the symptoms of food allergy occur within a few minutes to an hour of eating.
- A food allergy can initially be experienced as an itching in the mouth and difficulty swallowing and breathing.
- During digestion of the food in the stomach and intestines, symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain can start. (Incidentally, gastrointestinal symptoms are those that are most often confused with the symptoms of different types of food intolerance.)
- When the allergens reach the skin, they can induce hives or eczema, and when they reach the lungs, they can cause asthma.
- As the allergens travel through the blood vessels, they can cause lightheadedness, weakness, and anaphylaxis, which is a sudden drop in blood pressure. Anaphylactic reactions are severe even when they start off with mild symptoms, such as a tingling in the mouth and throat or discomfort in the abdomen. They can be fatal if not treated quickly.
For more, please read the Food Allergy article.
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Last Editorial Review: 7/6/2004