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  • Was It Something You Ate? Food Allergies and Intolerances

  • Food allergies are often confused with food intolerances, the inability of a person to digest a type of food properly. A true allergic reaction to a food involves the immune system, whereas a food intolerance usually involves the digestive system.

    Food Intolerances

    Nearly everyone has experienced symptoms of a food intolerance, which include vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. The most common is lactose intolerance, which affects one out of every 10 people in the United States. 

    Food Allergies

    Up to seven percent of children and one percent of adults have a food allergy. The most common allergies for adults are shellfish, peanuts, fish and eggs. For children, the most common allergies are to milk, soy products, peanuts and shellfish. Children may outgrow a food allergy, but adults usually do not.

    Symptoms of a food allergy may include:

    • Itchy skin
    • Rashes
    • Hives
    • Shortness of breath
    • Chest pain
    • Swelling of the respiratory passages
    • Unconsciousness

    If you experience these symptoms you should seek immediate emergency medical treatment.

    Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and the amount of food needed to cause a reaction varies. For example, for people with a severe allergy to peanuts, it only takes .00002 of a peanut kernel to trigger a reaction.

    If you suspect a food allergy, you should contact your physician, who can rule out other causes and outline related foods that you may also be allergic to. Food allergies and intolerances are different from food poisoning, which usually results from tainted food and affects more than one person at a single meal.

    Diagnosing and treating a food allergy or intolerance