The Allergy UK expert
Amena Warner is the Head of Clinical Services…
Is there a difference between food allergy and intolerance? Allergic reactions to food involve an abnormal response of the immune system. Allergic symptoms can vary from mild, to moderate, to severe. Mild symptoms can include itching, rashes, sneezing and a runny nose. Moderate symptoms vary from swelling, vomiting, stomach pains and coughing, with severe symptoms being difficulty in breathing or talking, which may lead to individuals passing out. Severe allergic reactions can be fatal, and are referred to as an anaphylactic shock, which is an acute medical emergency that needs prompt medical treatment.
Intolerances are different to food allergies – they’re not caused by the immune system and are not life threatening, although they can reduce quality of life significantly. Intolerances usually affect adults, rarely infants, who are more likely to have allergy. There are no validated tests for food intolerances other than lactose.
Are there any common symptoms? With a food allergy, symptoms usually arise within a few minutes of eating the offending food, although they may be delayed by up to a couple of hours. These can include rashes, wheezing, itching, severe gut pain or, rarely, sudden collapse. The rapid onset of symptoms, which always occur in response to the same food, means that most people will already recognise that the food causes them a problem. However intolerance reactions are usually delayed and symptoms may take several hours or days to appear. The most common symptoms are gastro-intestinal bloating, wind, loose stools or rashes, joint pain and headaches.
If someone thinks they might have an intolerance, but is not sure what to, do you have any advice? Food intolerances can be diagnosed with the help of a registered dietitian by a process of elimination of the suspect food, resolution of symptoms and monitored reintroduction. This is often via the use of a food diary.
Allergy UK offer help and advice online or over the phone so visit www.allergyuk.org or call 01322 619898 for further information.
Hayley discusses day-to-day dealings…
When did you first realise you had an allergy to peanuts and what happened? I can’t really pinpoint when I discovered my allergy, because it was always thought I just had asthma. As a small child I vividly remember my aunt giving me a marathon bar out shopping, but the change happened when I tried peanut butter. The next time I came into contact with peanuts was at a Christmas party later that year. I had an asthma attack and the doctor was called. Christmas was when I always suffered most due to nuts being out, and I have to be careful at parties. It has been known for someone to kiss me on the cheek and leave a lip mark having just eaten nuts!
What do you do now to avoid coming into contact with peanuts? I’m obviously careful what I eat and check packets if I’m buying something different. My local Chinese restaurant know I have an allergy so they are careful with my order and my daughter and fiancé watch what they eat too. If we eat out I always let the waiter know, although sometimes it’s unavoidable if someone has had nuts on the same surface. I’ll know about it shortly after!
Are you allergic to anything else/ any other nuts? I have a mild reaction to most nuts but I don’t really test! Almonds make me sick and roasted chestnuts turn my stomach. Walnuts make me itch, although I am fine with coconut. I do have to be careful with beauty products as some contain nut extract which badly affects my skin, so I use hypoallergenic cleanser, toner and foundation to be safe.
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