Sunday, October 7, 2007

Allergy vs. Intolerance

Since Bella's PA diagnosis I've been super sensitive about allergies - making sure that I accommodate folks who come for meals and make sure snacks or treats I bring to daycare are safe for all the kids.

But I have also become more aware of folks who tell me how allergic they are to something when they really just have an intolerance. For example, someone I know gets a little crampy if they have a certain type of cheese - but she tells me she's allergic. It drives me a little crazy (ok I need to say it - it drives me nuts- hee hee). I think to myself - does she have any idea what being allergic really means?

But then I thought to myself - do I?

So I went a' searching and here's what I found, courtesy
of the Mayo Clinic:

Food intolerance vs. food allergy: What's the difference?

Although many people have adverse reactions to certain foods, true food allergy — a reaction triggered by the immune system — is uncommon. Only about 2 percent of adults and 6 percent of children have a true food allergy. Far more people have a food intolerance, unpleasant symptoms triggered by certain foods. Unlike a food allergy, a food intolerance doesn't involve the immune system.

Lactose intolerance is one example of a food intolerance. People with lactose intolerance lack the enzyme lactase needed to digest milk sugar (lactose) in milk and other dairy foods. This inability to break down lactose during digestion may cause diarrhea, gas, bloating and abdominal pain.

In a food allergy, your immune system mistakenly identifies a specific food or a component of a food as a harmful substance. Your immune system triggers certain cells to produce immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to fight the culprit food or food component. The next time you eat even the smallest amount of that food, the IgE antibodies sense it and signal your immune system to release histamine and other chemicals into your bloodstream. Signs and symptoms of a food allergy may include tingling in the mouth, hives, swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, wheezing or breathing difficulties, and dizziness or fainting.

It's important to distinguish food intolerance from food allergy. If you have a food allergy, eating even the tiniest amount of the food may trigger a serious allergic reaction. By contrast, if you have a food intolerance, you usually can eat small amounts of the food without a reaction.

If you have a reaction to a particular food, tell your doctor about it. Tests can help determine whether you have a food allergy.

So now you know. Have you encountered folks saying they are allergic to something and they are really intolerant? Should we treat an intolerance with the same seriousness? Even though it bugs me a bit, I still respect it as I wouldn't want someone else to brush off Bella's true allergy (and by true I mean life threatening). But how would you respond to someone? I told my friend she had an intolerance and she was adamant she was allergic - ah well.


Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you mean! I have a family member who claims he is allergic to milk. My son is allergic to eggs, peanuts & milk. A milk allergy is about as challenging as a peanut allergy. Everything has milk in it! This family member says he can't have numerous things because of this milk allergy. However, pizza loaded with cheese is just fine for him. I think a more accurate translation is that he doesn't like most milk containing products (except pizza, of course!). Yes, you're right, this is so annoying!!

ChupieandJ'smama said...

My own mother does this. She's "allergic" to shell fish and bees. She's not allergic to bees for sure. She gets a localized allergic reaction. So do I and it isn't deadly and can be cleared up with Benadryl. She doesn't eat shell fish so I could be wrong on this one, but she cleans shrimp for my father and has no reaction so I'm doubtful. Don't tell her she's not allergic though. She gets very prickly about it.
I just want to scream when someone says they are allergic to something and they aren't.

bellevelma said...

Having someone claim an allergy to something when really it's an intolerance is aggravating for sure. But I figure if eating a particular food causes them discomfort, then I'll respect that and not serve them that food. I only hope they show as much respect for those of us with true food allergies. And since I only let my son eat food I prepare for him, I only ask that other people not argue with me about my son's food allergies or ask dumb questions or make dumb statements like "He can have a little, right? What harm can just a bite do?" One of the worst ones I heard was from a friend who said about allergen laden brownies "Oh, let him have one, you can just stick him with the epi pen and he'll be fine."

karenblueformilk said...

I have a hard time explaining, with my eldest she can not have ANY milk even cross contamination. My youngest is intolerent of Homo milk but can tolerate small amounts of milk.

Anonymous said...

I'm allergic (truly allergic) to strawberries, tomatoes, and peanuts. My immune system is involved, but I have to eat a LOT of those things before anything too terrible (i.e., throat constriction) happens.

I have to say that I find the above comments, and this post, bizarre. I guess I feel I have to say that because only people with, or who have children with, food allergies can have a legitimate opinion on this topic in your eyes.

Why would you care if someone says they are allergic to something, whether they are life-threateningly allergic, mildly allergic, or intolerant. Why would you have an issue with someone trying to avoid a certain food because it causes them discomfort, or even if they simply hate it?

Seriously, folks - why would you think of this as "annoying". It seems very, very strange to me.

Anonymous said...

I have issues with food, that some doctors have said are allergies and some say are intolerances. While I will not die from eating these foods, I do have major health problems from them that affect my daily life. My least favorite is brain fog. It is such that when I eat a lot of peanuts I find it extrememely difficult to communicate with anyone and very hard to concentrate for more than a few seconds. This can last for days after the offending foods. So yeah, I won't die, but please don't be annoyed: if you don't say your allergic to something, than people won't take it seriously, so yes, I say "allergic" every time.