May 12-18th is Food Allergy Awareness Week. I am often asked about the differences between food allergies and food intolerances. Let's explore some of the myths around both of these conditions.
Myth: You can have a food allergy and have no symptoms.
Fact: If you have no symptoms when you eat a particular food, you are not allergic. Symptoms of an IgE mediated food allergy include hives, swelling, difficulty breathing/swallowing, vomiting, anaphylaxis, and death.
Myth: Food allergies are common and everyone should be screened.
Fact: According to allergy experts, it is not necessary to screen people without symptoms for food allergies. In fact, IgE testing may overdiagnose people with allergies and should not be used as a screening test. They should only be used to confirm a diagnosis if a patient is having symptoms.
Myth: Food intolerances can be diagnosed with hair analysis, urine tests, IgG panels, and applied kinesiology.
Fact: You cannot diagnose a food intolerance with any of the tests noted above. Credible allergy organizations strongly oppose these tests as valid ways to diagnose food intolerances. For more information on the issues with home testing for food intolerances, visit the Nationwide Children's Hospital blog for an article by Dr. Dave Stukus, MD, a nationally acclaimed pediatric allergist.
Myth: Lactose intolerance and milk allergies are the same thing.
Fact: Lactose intolerance causes very different symptoms from a true dairy allergy. Typically, those with lactose intolerance experience gas, pain, bloating, and diarrhea after consuming foods with dairy. While people with a true milk allergy must avoid ALL forms of dairy, those with lactose intolerance can consume small amounts of low-lactose or lactose-free dairy, such as lactose-free milk and aged cheese.
Myth: You can be allergic to any food.
Fact: While it's possible to be allergic to any food, it's unlikely. About 90% of allergic reactions to food are caused by 8 major allergens: milk/dairy, wheat, eggs, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts.
Myth: Food manufacturers often "hide" allergens in foods under words such as natural flavorings.
Fact: It's not legal for manufacturers to hide any of the eight major food allergens under another name. You will see them clearly labeled in an ingredient statement or in a "Contains" statement (usually both).
Learn more about food allergies in the U.S. with this infographic from my go-to resource for food allergies--Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).