Have you ever eaten something that made you feel terrible? Something that made you feel sick, nauseous, or even gave you a headache? It might have left you wondering – “do I have a food allergy?”
You probably know that some food allergies can be serious and even life-threatening – but what about food sensitivities that have become more common in recent years? What’s the difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity? It’s important to learn the difference between the two and know the signs to keep you and your family safe.
What Are Food Allergies?
What does it mean when someone is allergic to a certain food? A food allergy is when your immune system thinks a certain food is dangerous or invading your body. This causes your body to create antibodies – think specialized fighters – designed to attack the invader.
The problem is these antibodies can cause some serious side effects or even an allergic reaction. Sometimes these side effects can be life-threatening which is called anaphylaxis. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Feeling warm or flushed
- Red or itchy rash
- Feeling light-headed
- Short of breath
- Throat tightness
- Pain or cramps
- Vomiting or diarrhea
Since anaphylaxis can be fatal if left untreated, it is important to seek medical attention immediately if you or a loved one is experiencing these symptoms. Epinephrine (often encapsulated in the recently infamous “epi-pens”) is a drug that can reverse the symptoms of an allergic reaction but it must be given in a timely fashion.
Peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, shellfish, and milk are often associated with food allergies.
Do I Have A Food Sensitivity Instead?
If you’ve never experienced any symptoms of anaphylaxis but feel like certain foods make you feel bad – you may actually have a food sensitivity, or intolerance. Food sensitivities originate in your gut, rather than your immune system. If you’re sensitive to a certain food or group of foods, your body is unable to digest it properly. This can be due to an enzyme deficiency, chemicals, or additives in the food. Although symptoms can be very uncomfortable and disruptive, they’re not life-threatening.
Symptoms of a food sensitivity include:
- Gas or feeling bloated
- Nausea or vomiting
Other symptoms outside of the digestive system include headache, fatigue, and ‘brain fog’.
Sometimes these symptoms occur a day or two after you’ve consumed the food, making it difficult to always know what food is giving you problems. You may also have sensitivities to several foods. Some of the most common foods or food groups which people have food sensitivities to include:
- Dairy – milk, cheese
- Gluten – wheat, barley, rye
- Caffeine – coffee, tea, soda
- Salicylates – a chemical naturally found in many fruits and vegetables but also used as a food preservative
- Fructose – Soda, honey, food with high-fructose corn syrup, certain fruits and vegetables
- Sulfites – wine, beer, pickled or canned foods
- Egg Yolks
- Soy – tofu, soy sauce, soy milk
- Monosodium glutamate or MSG – an additive used as a flavor enhancer in many Asian dishes, soups, and processed foods
As you can see, it’s not a short list, and it’s complicated by the fact that many of these ingredients can show up as seasonings or under a different name. Working with a doctor to come up with a plan will make tackling your food sensitivities – or allergies – less daunting.
What Do I Do If I Think I Have a Food Allergy or Food Sensitivity?
If you or someone in your family has had an anaphylactic reaction to a certain food, signifying a food allergy, you will most likely be referred to an allergy specialist. A specialist can further evaluate and identify any and all food triggers. You may also get a prescription for Epinephrine to have with you at all times in case you have another reaction. This can be especially important with food allergies because even if you’re being very careful, sometimes you don’t always know every ingredient in the food you’re eating.
If you think you have a food sensitivity, coming up with a plan to identify your food triggers is the next step. Working with your doctor, they may have to try an elimination diet where you remove certain foods from your diet and track how you feel. Trying an elimination diet requires keeping a food diary to document what you ate and how you felt afterward. It can be daunting to undertake, but most specialists will admit you can learn a lot in a fairly short amount of time (read: less than 2 weeks, in many cases.)
It’s important to review a plan to try an elimination diet with your doctor as you may cause other unwanted issues by completely removing certain foods from your diet. You may be taking certain medications – especially for your heart health or blood sugar which may be affected if you suddenly remove entire food groups. Elimination diets require careful monitoring and follow up for accuracy and your safety.
Once you learn what you or your family member is allergic or sensitive to, you will want to make sure you always check ingredients in foods you buy from the store and order from a restaurant. You’ll also want to make sure you notify the wait staff at restaurants of your allergies or sensitivities. Oftentimes restaurants use the same cook areas for different foods and things can become cross-contaminated.
We Know How to Help
If you or a loved one think you have a food allergy or sensitivity, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Food allergies and anaphylaxis can be life-threatening so it’s important to identify your allergies as soon as possible. CareHive’s services are available to our client partners and their members 24/7/365*. Coupled with the power of sophisticated navigational and clinical services, we’re leading the evolution of human-centered and technology-enabled healthcare to connect people to the right care at the right time. Our navigation team is able to determine precisely what you need, when and how to ensure you get the proper medical care for your concerns.
* CareHive is a B2B digital health company that serves our corporate and provider partners and their employees/members. We do not serve the general public, but let your Employer or Provider know about us if you are interested in our services!