A food allergy results when your body’s immune system misidentifies the protein found in a food as a threat to your health. Did you know that more than 32 million Americans have food allergies? And the numbers keep rising.
At Rheumatology and Allergy Institute of Connecticut, our providers specialize in diagnosing and treating allergies of all kinds. Our allergy experts are committed to helping patients in the Manchester, Connecticut, area manage their food allergies and reclaim their quality of life.
Food allergy symptoms vary — ranging from mild, like a rash, to life-threatening anaphylaxis — and chances are good that if you have or suspect you may have a food allergy, you want to know what’s causing your body to react the way it does. Here’s a closer look at how food allergies work and what you can do about them.
Food allergies 101
You’re diagnosed with a food allergy when your body’s immune system mistakenly identifies a food as a threat. Symptoms of a food allergy can be mild or severe. Your reaction may start within minutes of eating, or it may take up to an hour or more to appear.
While everyone experiences food allergies differently, common symptoms include:
- Swelling mouth, lips, or face
- Tightness in the throat
- Diarrhea and cramps
- Skin reactions such as swelling
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Shortness of breath, wheezing
People with a severe allergy may experience anaphylaxis, which occurs when your body releases chemicals that cause your body to go into shock, blocking your breathing.
Food allergies vs. food intolerance
Before getting to the root cause of your food allergies, it’s important to differentiate between a food allergy and a food intolerance. While some of the symptoms may be the same, a food intolerance does not involve your immune system, and symptoms are generally, but not always, less severe.
And while food allergies are always a response to the protein in a food, food intolerances may include reactions to different parts of a food, like carbohydrates, enzymes, proteins, or other chemicals. They can even result due to issues with your digestive system.
Because it can be challenging to tell the difference between a food allergy and food intolerance, it’s important to seek a diagnosis from an allergy expert, such as the providers at Rheumatology and Allergy Institute of Connecticut.
To determine the cause of your symptoms, we conduct an exam and review your family history, personal medical history, and symptoms. Depending on the nature of your symptoms, your provider may order additional testing, including:
- Skin test
- Blood test
- Oral food challenge
- Elimination diet
Once our team has reached a diagnosis, we create a customized treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms.
Causes of food allergies and intolerances
Food allergies stem from a reaction in your immune system. When your body identifies a food protein as dangerous to your health, your system releases chemicals, called antibodies, as a defense. Sometimes an allergy results when your body fails to release antibodies.
The most common food allergy triggers involve eight foods:
- Dairy (cow’s milk)
- Tree nuts
Here are some of the most common reasons you may experience a food intolerance:
- Lack of an enzyme needed to digest a food — for example, lactose intolerance
- Sensitivity to different food additives, such as sulfites
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Stress and psychological factors
For most patients, avoiding the food that triggers your allergic reaction is the first step. Your provider may also recommend different medications, like an antihistamine or epinephrine, to help manage your symptoms in case you come in contact with the food by accident.
Help for food allergies
Are you ready to learn more about what’s causing your food allergies so you can get relief? Contact Rheumatology and Allergy Institute of Connecticut by calling 860-288-1160, or request an appointment online now.