Do You Have A Food Allergy, Or An Intolerance?


It’s Food Allergy Awareness week, so to mark the event our health writer Colleen Shannon brings us some some helpful advice.

These days, when meeting friends and family for a meal, you often hear that someone needs special arrangements because of a food allergy.

According to statistics from the British Dietetic Association (BDA), one in five people believe they are hypersensitive to particular foods.

Food allergies are a serious problem for a few people. But they actually affect only about one in 100 adults.

It’s far more common to have a food intolerance.

This means something disagrees with you and causes symptoms. But it’s not caused by a reaction from your body’s immune system.

I spoke to Tanya Thomas, Registered Freelance Dietitian and a spokesperson for the BDA. She explained that food allergies are more likely to affect people with a family history of conditions like eczema, asthma or hay fever.

Food allergies show up in two different ways depending on the immune process involved. One type causes immediate symptoms such as rashes, hives and swelling of the lips.

Sometimes there’s a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis, which might come with wheezing, trouble breathing, fast heartbeat, confusion or loss of consciousness.

This is a medical emergency, so call an ambulance immediately and tell them it’s anaphylaxis.

If you have a known allergy and have an adrenalin pen, you should use it right away.

Other food allergies follow a different process in your immune system. Symptoms can be delayed, appearing later, after you’ve eaten the offending food.

They might include eczema, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting.

Few reliable tests

Symptoms of food intolerance can be similar to this type of allergy, so it’s hard to know the difference. They can vary from abdominal pain and bloating to headaches, eczema and other non-specific symptoms.

There are few reliable tests to diagnose a food allergy. Your GP or a registered dietitian can carry out skin prick or blood tests for the fast-acting type of food allergy.

In cases where the symptoms are slower to appear, it’s harder to determine whether it’s an allergy or an intolerance.

Food intolerances are usually diagnosed by keeping a diary of what you eat and what happens. A dietitian can help you eliminate possible culprits from your diet, see if you feel better, then reintroduce the food and see if the symptoms come back. Only do this with help from a registered dietitian, especially if it involves more than one food.

A dietitian must hold certain qualifications, and be registered with the government regulator. You can find a qualified dietitian on the BDA website, and there’s also online information about food allergies and intolerances.

For more health advice from “The People’s Friend”, click here.

For more on Food Allergy Awareness Week, click here.

Yvonne McKenzie

Yvonne works on the Features team and admits to being nosy, so loves looking after the Between Friends letters and finding out all about our lovely readers. She also looks after our health copy and enjoys writing about inspiring people that help make the articles in the magazine so interesting.