An allergy is an immune system response to a foreign substance that’s not typically harmful to your body. These foreign substances are called allergens. They can include certain foods, pollen, or pet dander.
Your immune system’s job is to keep you healthy by fighting infection and other harmful pathogens. It does this by attacking anything it thinks could put your body in danger. Depending on the allergen, this response may involve inflammation, sneezing, or a host of other symptoms.
Your immune system normally adjusts to your environment. For instance, when your body encounters something like pet dander, it should realize it’s harmless. In people with dander allergies, the immune system perceives it as an outside invader threatening the body and attacks it.
Allergies have a genetic component, meaning that they can be passed down from parent to child. However, only a general susceptibility to allergic reaction is genetic. Specific allergies are not passed down. For instance, if your mother is allergic to shellfish, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be too.
Allergy symptoms can create many complications. Your doctor can help determine the cause of your symptoms as well as the difference between a sensitivity and a full-blown allergy. Your doctor can also teach you how to manage your allergy symptoms.
For food allergies: Food allergies can trigger swelling, hives, nausea, fatigue, and more. It may take a while for a person to realize that they have a food allergy. If you have a serious reaction after a meal and you’re not sure why, see a medical professional immediately.
For seasonal allergies: Hay fever symptoms can mimic those of a cold. They include congestion, runny nose, and swollen eyes. Most of the time, you can manage these symptoms at home using over-the-counter treatments. See your doctor if your symptoms become unmanageable.
For severe allergies: Severe allergies can cause anaphylaxis. This is a life-threatening emergency that can lead to breathing difficulties, light-headedness, and loss of consciousness. If you’re experiencing these symptoms after coming in contact with a possible allergen, seek medical help immediately.
Allergies can be diagnosed in several ways. First, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and perform a physical exam. They’ll also ask about anything unusual you may have eaten recently and any substances you may have come in contact with. For instance, if you have a rash on your hands, your doctor may ask if you put on latex gloves recently.
Process of elimination: Food allergies are typically diagnosed through a process of elimination. Your doctor may have you follow an elimination diet. This means you remove certain foods from your diet and then rate your symptoms. Then you slowly add foods back into the diet and record your symptoms in a food diary.
Skin test: Your doctor may also refer you to an allergist for testing and treatment. A skin test is a common type of allergy test carried out by an allergist. During this test, your skin is pricked or scratched with small needles containing potential allergens. Your skin’s reaction is documented. If you’re allergic to a particular substance, your skin will become red and inflamed.
Blood test: Your doctor or allergist may also order a blood test known as a radioallergosorbent test (RAST). Your blood will be tested for the presence of allergy-causing antibodies (cells that react to allergens).
The best way to avoid allergies is avoiding whatever triggers the reaction. If that’s not possible, there are treatment options available.
Medication: Allergy treatment often includes medications like antihistamines to control symptoms. The medication can be over-the-counter or prescription, depending on the severity of your allergies.
Immunotherapy: Many people opt for immunotherapy. This involves several injections over the course of a few years to help the body get used to your allergy. Successful immunotherapy can prevent allergy symptoms from returning.
Emergency epinephrine: If you have a severe, life-threatening allergy, you should carry an emergency epinephrine shot. The shot counters allergic reactions until medical help arrives.
There is no way to prevent allergies. But there are ways to prevent the symptoms from occurring. The best way to prevent allergy symptoms is to avoid the allergens that trigger them.
Avoidance is the most effective way to prevent food allergy symptoms. An elimination diet can help you determine the cause of your allergies so you know how to avoid them. Preventing seasonal, contact, and other allergies comes down to knowing where the allergens are located and how to avoid them.
If you’re allergic to dust, for instance, you can help reduce symptoms by installing proper air filters in your home, getting your air ducts professionally cleaned, and dusting your home regularly.
Proper allergy testing can help you pinpoint your exact triggers, which makes them easier to avoid.
Allergies are common and don’t have life-threatening consequences for most people. People who are at risk of anaphylaxis can learn how to manage their allergies and what to do in an emergency situation.
Most allergies are manageable with avoidance, medications, and lifestyle changes. Working with your doctor or allergist can help reduce any major complications and make life more enjoyable.
When food particles enter the bloodstream, the immune system can sometimes identify these food protein particles as “foreign” and produces IgG antibodies to “attack” the food in question. This response is your immune system’s natural defence mechanism to ward off harmful invaders in the body which can create inflammation.
This inflammation could trigger bothersome symptoms, which may persist or develop in the body if they are neglected. Imagine if you stopped brushing your teeth twice a day. The more foods and drinks you consume, the more bacteria lands on your teeth. Through this neglection, over time you may see a build-up of plaque, bad breath and discolouration which may lead to problems, such as tooth decay. Food intolerance can build up in the same way and could create further problems as the root cause hasn’t been addressed.
Yes, you can develop a food intolerance at any point in your life. However, it is often very challenging to pinpoint exactly what foods and drinks you’re reacting to.
Food intolerance testing is not something that is currently offered on the NHS. Instead, people are encouraged to eliminate certain foods one-by-one to identify an intolerance, especially ones you suspect are causing a reaction. However, this can often be an exhaustive process and not knowing where to start can be daunting.
It’s important to discuss any symptoms you may have with your GP, so they can refer you for further tests to rule out any underlying conditions. If you are still suffering thereafter, it is at this point where you may wish to take a closer look at your diet.
Symptoms of a food intolerance can often be wide-ranging and affect various parts of the body. From digestive problems, headaches, skin issues through to anxiety and depression. You can find out more on symptoms of a food intolerance here.
We always encourage to see your GP first to rule out any underlying conditions. Food intolerance is often the last possible cause people investigate for their symptoms. Did you know medically unexplained symptoms account for up to a fifth of GP consultations in the USA? These symptoms include, tiredness, depression, anxiety, skin issues and digestive problems.
An IgG food intolerance test can pinpoint what foods and drinks your body could be reacting to which can be a useful starting point for an elimination diet. Usually there is more than one food and drink ingredient that the body is reacting to and, therefore, an IgG test could override the guesswork on what works for and against your body.
The onset of symptoms is usually much slower compared to a food allergy and may be delayed by many hours after eating the offending food. Because of this, it makes it challenging to pinpoint what foods and drinks are triggering your symptoms. The signs of food intolerance are often prolonged, especially if offending foods are eaten on a regular basis. You can find out more on the symptoms here.
When it comes to the difference between food allergy and food intolerance, many people assume they are the same thing, especially when they’re used interchangeably in conversation. However, they are both very different.
An allergy could be life-threatening, and symptoms often develop soon after consumption. A food intolerance, on the other hand, is not life-threatening and symptoms could develop as far as 72 hours after eating the problematic food. In scientific terms, the body produces IgE antibodies during an allergic reaction and IgG antibodies can be involved when it comes to a food intolerance. This means that the biological processes behind a food allergy and a food intolerance are notably dissimilar.