There are some very significant differences between food allergies and food intolerances, and it's not just a matter of degree. When you have an intolerance, your digestive system just can't cope with the food in question; allergies, meanwhile, cause a problem across the immune system, which can lead to possible reactions on the skin, in the lungs and esophagus, in the mouth and elsewhere. The recent news focus on food intolerances has been helpful in shining a light on all the things that people can struggle with digesting, from from gluten to additives (my husband, for instance, has an intolerance to the additives in commercial yeast production, of all things) — but it has made many of us forget that food allergies are a separate phenomenon. Further, we may not know that all food allergies are not necessarily anaphylactic-shock-inducing style serious; many of us have less severe food allergies, and thus miss the subtle symptoms we experience when dealing with them.
There is a new way to discover whether you have a food allergy, though unfortunately, it isn't actually something you can do yourself: A new study has uncovered that the umbilical cord blood in babies who go on to develop food allergies often seems to be different to those who don't. It's all very new, and a lot more research on the subject still needs to be done, but in the future we may be able to pinpoint a child's food allergy destiny from the moment they come out of the birth canal. Right now, though, we've got to rely on allergen tests and bodily reactions.
If you do experience any of these symptoms when eating a particular food, it's a good idea to take note, avoid those foods to see what happens to your body after you remove them from your diet, and go talk to your doctor. (Allergen tests can give false positives, so don't put all your faith in those — your personal observations of your own physical reactions are important, too.)
One of the key things to know about food allergies is that they can appear across many different parts of your body that have nothing to do with eating: your skin, your respiratory system, your heart, and so on. If you find yourself wheezing after eating a certain food, it's a sign that your airways might be narrowing, and signals a possible allergic reaction to the food.
2. Hives Or Redness
This is a fairly well-known symptom, but it can still be easy to forget the connection between food allergies and skin irritation. The irritation doesn't necessarily need to turn up on your face or tongue in order to be food-related (though it can); it can appear on your chest, arms, legs, basically anywhere. Hives are a reaction to the level of histamine in your skin's blood cells, as are certain types of redness.
3. Trouble Swallowing
This symptom has its own medical term: dysphagia. If you can't swallow properly due to an allergic reaction, it likely indicates that your esophagus is finding life difficult for some reason, and can't do its job properly. It's also sometimes a sign of anaphylactic shock, one of the most severe allergic reactions around, so monitor this one very carefully — if you think you're experiencing it, seek medical assistance ASAP.
4. An Itchy Mouth
Have you ever eaten a strawberry, only to develop a mysterious itchiness around your lips and the inside of your mouth soon after? You may have discovered an allergy. Itchiness is commonly associated with oral allergy food syndrome, an affliction often suffered by people with hay fever or pollen sensitivity. When people with OAFS eat particular fruits and vegetables raw, it causes an allergic reaction in the bodies that is related to what they experience when encountering pollen. (It's due to similar proteins in the two different substances.) The good news is that it happens pretty immediately, so if you're suffering from this, the culprit will be pretty obvious.
5. Sneezing And Itchy Eyes
This may seem like a counterintuitive one. After all, how many different parts of the body can one allergic reaction involve? Many, as it turns out. Sneezing and itchiness in the eye area, most commonly associated with hay fever, can be a part of food allergies too. So if you've experienced some confusingly sneeze-filled dinners out on decidedly pollen-free days, now you may know why.
6. Rapid Heartbeat
If you feel like you just ran a mile but have just been sitting and eating calmly for the past ten minutes, your heart may be reacting to an allergen in your food. Cardiovascular system reactions can be part of food allergies, though it's more common to experience indigestion or trouble with your bowels. If your blood pressure suddenly drops, though, it's a sign of trouble and you need to get medical attention immediately.
So if any of this sounds like you, know that you're not losing your mind — you're actually experiencing a totally common (and typically treatable) medical phenomenon.
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