Food allergy and intolerance myth buster
There is much in the media about food allergies and intolerances, but what is the difference? And more importantly, how accurate is the information we read? Here we sort fact from fiction.
Do you know the facts?
1) A food intolerance is just a less severe type of allergy
FALSE: Food allergy and food intolerance are quite different things. A food allergy is a reaction produced by the body’s immune system when it encounters a normally harmless substance. This tends to happen relatively quickly, sometimes within minutes, but more likely within 1-2 hours. An intolerance does not usually involve the immune system and is when a foodstuff (such as lactose) causes an unpleasant reaction (such as diarrhoea) and effects are rarely immediate. People who have allergies will have a bad reaction even if they come into contact with a very small amount of the foodstuff they are allergic to, whereas those with an intolerance may still be able to eat that foodstuff in small quantities.
2) If you think you have an allergy or intolerance to a certain food, you should cut it out of your diet
FALSE: Don't cut food groups out of your diet without medical advice, because you could miss out on important nutrients. Consult your GP first, who can refer you for tests to diagnose your symptoms if appropriate.
3) Levels of food allergy are rising
4) Most children grow out of their allergy to eggs, milk, wheat and soya
5) Most people will grow out of allergies to peanuts, seafood, fish and tree nuts
FALSE: An allergy to peanuts, seafood, fish and tree nuts is very rarely lost.
6) You can be allergic to any foodstuff
7) Symptoms of an allergic reaction will always appear immediately after eating the food that caused it
FALSE: It may be that symptoms of an allergic reaction appear immediately, but it can be several hours before they present themselves. It is also the case that symptoms can be more or less severe on different occasions.
8) Food allergies can be fatal
9) Some people can be allergic to fruit and vegetables
10) A food allergy or intolerance can be easily self-diagnosed
FALSE: It is thought that a much higher number of people will believe that their symptoms are being caused by a food allergy or intolerance than is actually the case. Around 30% believe they are allergic or intolerant to one or more foods, but a Food Standards Agency (FSA) report in 2008 estimated that only 5-8% of children and 1-2% of adults have a food allergy. Some researchers believe that the figure for adults may be slightly higher, at around 3-4%. Always consult with your GP first if you are experiencing symptoms.
11) Food allergies or intolerances can be cured
FALSE: There is currently no cure for food allergy or intolerances. The only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid the food you are sensitive to. Research is under way to see if desensitisation strategies (as are used for hay fever) can also be applied to food allergies, but this is still at an early stage and should not be attempted without close medical supervision. If you think you may have a food allergy or intolerance, it is important to visit your GP before you start cutting out foods. Many children will grow out of their allergies and intolerances as their bodies and immune systems mature
12) Home test kits are recommended for diagnosing food allergies and intolerances
FALSE: The use of commercial allergy testing kits is not recommended. These tests are often of a lower standard than those provided by the NHS or accredited private clinics. Also, allergy tests should be interpreted by a qualified professional who has detailed knowledge of your symptoms and medical history.
13) Allergies and intolerances run in families
14) If you have eczema or asthma you are more likely to develop an allergy or intolerance
15) You are only required to carry medication if your allergy is very severe
FALSE: If you are diagnosed with a food allergy you should carry medication with you at all times, since an allergic reaction can range in severity. Your GP will provide you with two types of medication: antihistamine tablets and/or gels, which can be used to manage the symptoms of a mild to moderate allergic reaction, and adrenaline, which is used to manage the symptoms of anaphylaxis. Adrenaline is normally supplied in a device called an adrenaline auto-injector pen.
16) People who have a food allergy are more likely to develop other food allergies
17) If you have a food allergy or intolerance you may have an allergic reaction to cosmetics
For further information about food allergy and intolerance, try the following useful links:
NHS Choices 2012