Food Allergy Versus Food Sensitivity: What's The Difference?
With the rise in prevalence of food allergies and food sensitivities, there has been an increasing amount of attention paid to what causes them and how they can affect a person's health. Food sensitivities have only recently been studied by clinicians, and the amount of information available on their causes and their effects is low relative to our information on food allergies. This has caused some people to confuse food allergies and food sensitivities, the two of which affect the body in completely different ways; food sensitivity is not simply a minor food allergy, but rather is something different entirely. If you suspect that you have a food allergy or a food sensitivity, an allergist can help you pinpoint which foods are causing you issues with diagnostic tests.
Your Body's Reaction Determines Whether It's An Allergy Or Sensitivity
Food allergies are caused by an abnormal immune response to proteins contained In certain foods. Your body produces IgE antibodies in response to these proteins, which circulate throughout your bloodstream and cause the symptoms of your allergic reaction. This immune response is normally used to fight off serious illness and parasitic infections, but unfortunately in this case it's caused by the ingestion of otherwise-harmless food. The most common food allergies are nuts and shellfish, but it's possible to be allergic to any protein found in food; allergies to chicken, onions or coffee are rare, but not unheard-of. It's important to work with an experienced allergist if you suspect you have an allergy to food, because some potential allergens can be quite obscure.
Food sensitivity is similar to a food allergy, in that it is an abnormal immune response to food. However, your body uses the IgG immune response in the case of a food sensitivity and not the IgE response of a food allergy. This causes severe inflammation of your body's cells, but doesn't have the risk of leading to anaphylactic shock and won't require medical intervention. However, chronic inflammation due to continually eating foods that you are sensitive to can lead to a number of medical issues, such as fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome and joint pain. Some people have reported feeling much better after they have eliminated food that they are sensitive to from their diet, sometimes including a complete remission of chronic conditions.
Food Allergy Testing Differs From Food Sensitivity Testing
The most effective method for food allergy diagnoses is performing a food allergen challenge; during this process, you consume small amounts of the foods that you and your physician suspect are causing your reactions. The amount of food that you consume is slowly increased over time while observing for an effect. Other common food allergens will be tested as well. Due to the risk of serious complications such as anaphylactic shock, food allergy tests must be performed under close supervision of a physician with emergency medical equipment close at hand.
Other methods for testing for food allergies exist as well. Blood tests can measure the level of IgE antibodies circulating in your blood after consuming very small amounts of suspected foods, and skin tests (similar to what would be performed to test for seasonal outdoor allergies or pet allergies) can also be used. Although these are less effective than a graduated food challenge, they are less expensive and carry less risks.
Like with food allergies, food sensitivity can be caused by a massive variety of foods. Testing for food sensitivity is, however, much easier than testing food allergies. In fact, you can test for food sensitivity at home with a panel containing samples of the most common food allergens and a small amount of your blood. If your blood cells react to the allergens in the food by releasing IgG antibodies and other inflammation markers, there's a chance that you are sensitive to the food in question and will feel better if you eliminate it from your diet.