Food Allergies

What Is Food Allergy & Food Intolerance?

A bad reaction to a food doesn’t necessarily mean you have a food allergy.

For a true food allergy to be present, two things must be happen:

  1. The reaction must involve the immune system. Allergy tests determine if the immune system is involved.
  2. The reaction must create certain symptoms. Symptoms alone, however, do not prove allergy.

food allergy is a term that health experts reserve for any abnormal reaction by the body’s disease-fighting immune system to an otherwise harmless food or component of food.

Only a small fraction of the population has a genuine allergic reaction to food. In fact, in North America, only about 5 to 8 percent of children and 2 percent of adults have a true food allergy.

When a reaction to a food occurs that does not involve the body’s immune system, it is called food intolerance. This is not a food allergy.

Food intolerance stems from problems with digestion or metabolism. Usually the problem involves a defect or deficiency in an enzyme in the body, a chemical necessary for the breakdown or absorption of a particular food deficiency.

Medical experts agree that it’s important to clear up the confusion surrounding food allergy and intolerance, because the potential consequences of such confusion can be serious.

  • While food intolerance can be unpleasant, it’s rarely dangerous.
  • Individuals who have genuine food allergies, however, need to know which foods to avoid, how to recognize the symptoms of an allergic attack, and how to take steps to prevent or short-circuit a severe allergic reaction.

Facts about food allergy

  • Surveys have found that as many as one-third of all adults believe they have food allergies. However, in North America, only about 5 to 8 percent of children and 2 percent of adults have a true food allergy.
  • Food allergy usually first appears in childhood, but it can start at any age.
  • Most people who are allergic to foods have other allergies, such as hay fever or allergies to certain medications.
  • Allergic tendencies seem to run in families. However, with food allergies, it is common for only a single family member to be food allergic.
  • The best treatment for food allergy is to avoid eating the problem foods.


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