Food Allergies and Intolerances
Food allergies and intolerances: the differences
We hear a lot in the media about food allergies. In fact, food allergies are uncommon. And the good news is that most children who have allergies grow out of them.
What is a food allergy?
When you are allergic to a food substance, your immune system reacts to that substance as though the substance is toxic. Your immune system tries to protect your body by releasing chemicals (such as histamines) into the body’s tissues. The resulting effect on the body can be quite major, even with tiny amounts of food.
Researchers estimate that only 6-8% of children and 1-2% of adults have a food allergy.
What is a food intolerance?
A food intolerance is a reaction to a substance in the food you’re eating. Unlike allergies, intolerances are not caused by your immune system reacting to the food.
Intolerance reactions are generally less severe than allergic reactions. They can still cause a lot of discomfort, though. Some people can cope with small amounts of foods they’re intolerant of, and they generally have fewer symptoms than people with allergies.
Common food allergies
About 90% of food allergies are caused by seven foods:
- cow’s milk
- hen’s eggs
- tree nuts (almond, brazil, cashew and so on)
- fish and shellfish.
The remaining 10% of allergies are caused by a wide variety of other foods.
Common food intolerances
The most common food intolerances are caused by:
- dairy products (for more information, see our article on lactose intolerance)
- food additives (including flavour enhancers such as monosodium glutamate or MSG)
- citrus fruit
- red wine and other foods containing histamines.
How long do food allergies and intolerances last?
Most children grow out of their food allergies by adolescence, especially children who are allergic to milk, egg, soybean or wheat.
Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish are more likely to be lifelong.
If you think your child might have grown out of an allergy, see a doctor or an allergist for an assessment. Do not experiment at home to see whether your child has outgrown the allergy.
Giving a child even a small amount of a food she’s still allergic to can cause a severe or life-threatening reaction. It’s best to do this under appropriate guidance from your doctor or allergist.
Whether a food intolerance is a temporary or lifelong problem depends on the particular food and the reason your child’s body is reacting to it. It’s best to speak to your health professional about whether your child’s food intolerance can be treated.