One of the things that most human beings love is food. Whether it is stuffing our faces with pizza or ice cream, we get a tremendous amount of pleasure from consuming delicious food.

Some of the food that we consume is bad for us. Most of us know that, but we ignore it because it appeals to our taste buds. There’s a big difference between unhealthy food and food that can make you instantly sick. Both are bad, but they differ in the degree of health decline that they cause.

Unhealthy food has a devastating impact on one’s health in the long haul, while food allergy has an almost instant negative effect.

What are food allergies?

It is an abnormal response to a specific food that your body’s immune system triggers. Those foods trigger allergic reactions that could be mild or a severe reaction called anaphylaxis.

How to Know if You Have a Food Allergy

The bad news is that there isn’t one specific test to determine food allergies. It’s not a case of one-size-fits-all. 

Your doctor might perform several tests to determine which foods you are allergic to. One of the ways that a doctor will consider before making a diagnosis is determining your symptoms. The doctor will request that you provide him or her a detailed history of your symptoms. The doctor will want to know all the food that you eat and how much to determine the problem.

The other way the doctor can make conclusions is if you provide a family history of allergies. You need to let the doctor know about family members who have experienced any allergies. 

The doctor will, most times, do a physical examination. That exam will help the doctor to identify or exclude other medical problems. 

One of the most important tests that the doctor will conduct is a skin test.

Skin Testing: Method #1 of Determining Food Allergies

A doctor will conduct a skin prick test to determine your reaction to food. 

To do the test, a doctor will place a small amount of the suspected food on the skin of your forearm or back. Then the doctor will prick your skin with a needle, allowing a small amount of the substance to enter beneath your skin. A raised bump or a reaction will develop if you are allergic to the tested substance.

Elimination Diet: Method #2 of Determining Food Allergies

Don’t be surprised if the doctor asks you to participate in an elimination diet. That requires you to eliminate suspect foods from your diet, then adding those items back to your diet, one at a time, at a later date. One of the benefits of this method is that it helps the doctor to link symptoms to specific foods.

Although the elimination diet can help, it also has a few drawbacks. 

The problem with the elimination diet is that it can’t tell you whether you’re experiencing an allergy or food sensitivity. The other problem is that this method might not be safe if you’ve had reactions to the tested food before.

Oral Food Challenge: Method #3 of Determining Food Allergies

The doctor might also do an oral food challenge. 

This happens at the doctor’s office and requires you to consume small amounts, at first, then increased amounts of the suspected food. The doctor will allow you to include the food that you’re not allergic to in your diet.

Blood Test: Method #4 of Determining Food Allergies

Another option is a blood test. A doctor will conduct a blood test if they’re unable to perform a skin test. A patient will have to wait a few days for the blood test results.

Differences Between a Food Allergy and Food Sensitivity

As mentioned, a food allergy occurs when the immune system causes the reaction. Food sensitivity is when the digestive system triggers the reaction.

Here’s the breakdown: 

Having a food sensitivity is not life-threatening. Food sensitivity is caused by the inability to process or digest food and is more common than food allergy. The other important thing to note about food sensitivity is that it does not involve the immune system.

The sensitivity or intolerance to food is triggered in the digestive tract. That’s where the body can’t break down the food it’s sensitive to. A good example is lactose intolerance. That’s when your body can’t break down lactose, which is sugar in dairy.

Some of the reasons that people experience food sensitivity is due to lacking the enzymes needed to digest certain foods or having reactions to food additives like MSG.

The most common symptoms of food sensitivity include diarrhea, gas and bloating, cramping, constipation and nausea. 

Taking a closer look at food allergies...

The Immune System vs. Food Allergies

A person’s immune system acts as a defense mechanism against fungi, bacteria, or a cold virus. Food allergies happen when the immune system considers a protein as a body invader, then reacts by producing antibodies to fight it.

These so-called invaders cause an immediate reaction when the body releases chemicals.

The biggest difference between food allergies and sensitivity is that some allergies can be deadly. With some people, they can have a severe reaction by consuming even a small amount of the allergen.

What are the symptoms of food allergies?

  • Itching or swelling in your mouth
  • Vomiting, diarrhea
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Tightening in the throat
  • Hives or eczema
  • Digestive symptoms

What are the most common foods of allergic reactions? The most common are:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Fish
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat
  • Soybean
  • Shellfish

Preventing Allergies

One of the best ways to prevent food allergies is by educating yourself. You need to learn how to recognize the symptoms of a reaction, reading ingredient labels to avoid consuming foods that you’re allergic to, as well as knowing when to administer epinephrine.

An important step to take is to find out your family history. Determine if any of your family members have experienced food allergies. If yes, go to the doctor and test yourself for those foods.

If your child has allergies, you need to teach them which foods to avoid and also show them what those foods look like. The other important thing to do as a parent is to involve the caregivers and inform the school.

The child’s caregiver needs to know which food they can’t feed the child, and the school also needs to be informed of the child’s allergies so that they can prevent selling that food to him or her and ensure that they don’t consume it while at school.

Before consuming any food, you must read the ingredient labels. 

If you’re in doubt about a specific ingredient, just pass on it. You don’t need to take unnecessary risks. 

How to Treat Food Allergies

Although most people try their best to follow the advice of medical professionals about avoiding allergies, some come into contact with foods that cause a reaction.

When that happens, you need to know how to treat allergies.

The method of treatment that one chooses will depend on the severity of the reaction. If a person experiences a minor reaction, they can purchase over-the-counter drugs such as antihistamines, which will reduce the symptoms. 

If you experience a severe reaction, you will require an epinephrine injection or a trip to the emergency room. Anybody who has a history of experiencing food allergy symptoms needs to carry an epinephrine autoinjector.

Otherwise known as an “epipen.” 

Health professionals are also conducting several tests to determine if more effective treatments exist. One of the tests involves patches. The professionals have placed small amounts of the food allergen on the patches, which you stick to your body so that it makes you less sensitive to the food.

The other trial involves feeding a person a small amount of the food allergens orally, then increasing the doses so that you become accustomed to it. 

A treatment method of hives that some people have used is acupuncture point injection. More research is required to ensure that this is a legitimate treatment source. The warning that health professionals issue if you’re going to do this method is that you work with an experienced and certified provider.

Make Sure of the Following

The first thing you need to determine is if you are suffering from food allergies or sensitivity. The two are very different and vary in the way they impact your body.

Having a food sensitivity isn’t as serious as a food allergy, which can be fatal. Make sure that you know which one you have. 

One of the easiest ways to determine if you could suffer from food allergies is to look at your family history. If you’ve identified a history, visit a doctor to conduct the necessary tests.

People who experience allergies need to carry around an epinephrine autoinjector wherever they go. Some symptoms can be so severe that if they don’t get to an emergency room in time that they might die. 

One of the best ways to avoid food allergies or sensitivity is by educating yourself. Find out which foods you’re most likely to be allergic to and read ingredient labels before consuming any food.

To help round out the picture of food allergies and how they affect us as a country, we created a helpful infographic down below that illustrates just how common food allergies can be--and why we should take them more seriously.

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