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When your child doesn’t have a food allergy, but still has symptoms. The inside story on food intolerance and sensitivity.

allergies vs intolerance“My child can’t eat that, but he isn’t allergic”

When your child doesn’t have a food allergy, but still has symptoms
The inside story on food intolerance and sensitivity

Milk. Eggs. Wheat. Soy. Tree nuts. Peanuts. Shellfish. Fish.

For most individuals, this list looks like a mix of food groups. To a parent whose child has food allergies, these foods are culprits. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, approximately 90% of all food allergies are caused by these eight foods.

For parents learning that their child has been diagnosed with a true food allergy, it is not good news; still, it IS an answer to why their child has an abnormal response of the body to a certain food. From this point on, parents know every time their child has this particular food, they will have an allergic reaction.

But for parents to learn that there is no food allergy but something else, it is frustrating.

What is that “something else?”

“The answer may be a food intolerance and/or food sensitivity,” says Dr, Todd, a physician at Midwest ENT & ALLERGY. “Kids may experience many of the same symptoms with food allergies and food intolerances, but the two are not the same diagnosis.”

An allergic reaction triggers the immune system whereas food intolerances involve the digestive system, Dr. Todd explains.

An allergic reaction occurs when the body wrongly thinks a food like peanuts or shellfish is dangerous. The body’s immune system mounts a defense against the allergen. The defense can be mild to moderate, causing hives, vomiting, dizziness. It also can be life-threatening or deadly when it triggers breathing difficulties or anaphylactic shock. Treatment can be immunologic therapy with gradual exposure to small amounts of the allergen through oral drops.

In contrast, food intolerances involve the digestive system, not the immune system.

People who are intolerant to foods like dairy or gluten struggle to digest it. A lactose intolerant person doesn’t have enough of the enzyme lactase to break down the lactose, the sugar found in dairy. This leads to gas, bloating, cramping and other digestive issues.

Those sensitive to gluten have trouble digesting the proteins found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. Gluten sensitive people experience many of the same symptoms – including headaches, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea or constipation – and feel better when they avoid gluten.

“Food intolerance covers much more ground,” says Dr. Todd. “Some food intolerances are lifelong, while others emerge as people age and their digestive system slows down.

“The doctors and nurses at Midwest ENT & Allergy work to discover the root cause of the problem so it can be eliminated,” Dr. Todd explains.

“Determining whether you are allergic to a food is pretty straight forward. An allergy specialist will take your medical history and conduct skin and/or blood tests. After you are exposed to tiny amounts of dozens of foods, the allergist checks for a reaction on your skin or the presence of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in your blood. If these tests are positive, you have a food allergy and should avoid those foods or ingredients.

Should the food allergy testing be negative, you may have a food sensitivity. The most effective way to confirm food sensitivity is through an elimination challenge diet. If a particular food is eliminated from the diet and symptoms improve, that is considered a positive finding for a food sensitivity. Once these sensitivities are identified, avoiding these foods and finding hidden culprits is the key to successfully treating the patient and helping them to feel better. To overcome food sensitivities, the goal is to establish a healthy bacteria in the digestive tract and know which foods to avoid.

“Food sensitivities and food allergies can often disrupt a happy life-style. Once you are tested and diagnosed, you can make the dietary changes you need to be on your way to a happy, healthy life,” says Dr. Todd.


by Virginia Olson – SF Woman Magazine 

Midwest Ear, Nose & Throat
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