Feeling gassy, bloated, or otherwise unwell after a recent meal? If you notice a visceral response in the hours or days following consumption of a certain food, a food intolerance may be to blame.
Unlike a food allergy, a food intolerance (also known as also known as a non-IgE mediated food hypersensitivity or non-allergic food hypersensitivity) is not accompanied by an immune response.
In a food allergy, the body’s immune system reacts to the proteins in a food and mounts an immune response. Symptoms of a food allergy are often immediate and severe.
Symptoms may include (but are not limited to) itching, hives, swelling, vomiting, narrowing of the airway, diarrhea, rash, nausea, and dangerously low blood pressure. Food allergies can be relatively mild or life threatening, depending on the individual.
Food allergies are relatively easy to diagnose via blood test.
Unlike a food allergy, identifying and diagnosing a food intolerance can be challenging.
There are no blood tests available to diagnose a food intolerance, and identification of the exact culprit often requires dietary elimination in order to pinpoint the offending food or beverage.
The symptoms of a food intolerance are typically slower to manifest than symptoms of a food allergy and may occur in the hours or days following consumption of the offending food.
Symptoms are often gastrointestinal in nature (cramping, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, pain, swelling, discomfort), although a rash, itching, headache, or other symptoms may also be present.
Some food intolerances are caused by a lack of digestive enzymes required to break down certain foods, while others have unspecified causes.
The most common food intolerance is lactose intolerance: the inability to appropriately digest dairy products containing lactose because of a lack of the enzyme lactase.
Other common food intolerances include grains, beans, nuts, shellfish, eggs, soy, and wheat.
Regardless of whether your set of symptoms seems to be severe or mild, stay vigilant in the hours after the consumption of a suspected offender. If hives, swelling, dizziness, or shortness of breath occur, call 911 or head to your local emergency room immediately.