You drink a glass of cow's milk and end up with stomach pain. Tree nuts leave you covered in hives. You obsessively check the food labels before you consume even a bite. It sounds like you might be experiencing food allergies or intolerances.
If that's the case, food allergy testing will help determine what's causing your allergic reaction so that you can adjust your diet accordingly.
There's a reason why from the time you were a child, your parents warned you to stay away from peanuts.
In a nutshell, when you eat food allergens, your body's immune system thinks that it's being invaded. It doesn't realize that everything is okay! So, it kicks into gear by releasing chemicals to fight those invaders.
And that's why you experience food allergy symptoms — like a tingling in your mouth or swelling in your face.
Interestingly, babies are not born with food allergies! Rather, they develop these allergic reactions over time.
The reason that an allergic reaction happens is that either the person's tolerance to that food didn't build up fast enough, or it diminished over time.
So, it's completely possible that certain foods didn't bother you as a child, but as an adult, you can't eat them.
If you develop a food allergy, you're not necessarily stuck with it for life. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), food allergies to milk, soy, wheat, and eggs can go away on their own over time.
However, food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish tend to be permanent.
We want to point out an important distinction. Food allergies are not the same thing as food sensitivities and food intolerances.
In a food allergy, your body exhibits an immune response. Your immune system releases antibodies to try to protect you. If you were to consume too much of or even just come in contact with that trigger food, you could potentially go into anaphylactic shock, which can be deadly.
Food sensitivities/intolerances, on the other hand, cannot cause anaphylaxis. They are usually less serious. Moreover, the symptoms of a food intolerance are usually related to the digestive system — such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
When it comes to a food allergy vs a food intolerance, look at your symptoms. That's where you'll likely find the answer.
You now know that a food allergy is not the same thing as a food sensitivity. Let's talk a little more about how you can tell them apart.
Common symptoms of a food allergy include:
On the other hand, if you're experiencing a food sensitivity, you might notice:
If you think you might be experiencing food allergies, visit a healthcare provider for allergy testing! This is commonly done through a skin prick test or a blood test.
eNational Health's Basic Food Sensitivity panel is a blood test that checks for some of the most common trigger foods (like peanuts). You'll receive the results of your blood test in three to four business days.
The Comprehensive Food Sensitivity panel is a slightly more robust blood test. These results are also delivered in three to four business days. Learn more about this blood draw!
While a skin prick test or blood testing might be able to identify a food sensitivity, it's not guaranteed. Again, this has to do with how the body reacts differently in an actual food allergy versus a food sensitivity.
We want to emphasize that the only true way to diagnose a food allergy or food sensitivity is to visit a healthcare provider and provide a blood sample.
However, you can also do a little detective work at home by trying an elimination diet. (We still recommend doing this under the guidance of a healthcare provider. In fact, they might recommend this approach in order to learn about your food allergy symptoms.)
In an elimination diet, you remove certain foods that might be causing your immune response or discomfort. Over the course of a couple of months, you reintroduce these foods one at a time.
Then, if you experience any allergic reactions or food sensitivity, you'll have a better idea of what caused it.
As an example, maybe you remove gluten, dairy, and nuts from your diet. One by one, you reintroduce them. Halfway through your elimination diet, you eat a grilled cheese sandwich. You end up spending the rest of the night in the bathroom.
You're obviously allergic to dairy, right? Not so fast! Was it the dairy in the cheese, or was it the bread? Back to the drawing board!
A couple of days later, maybe you try eating plain cheese and you don't experience any sort of allergic reaction or digestive issues.
The next day, you eat two plain pieces of bread. And it's back to the bathroom you go. That's it! You've narrowed down what's causing your allergic reaction or food intolerance: the bread you're eating.
We could technically take this even further. We might assume that it's the gluten that's bothering you. However, there could be something else in that bread product that's bothering your stomach. You might need to do even more homework if you want more specific answers.
But this is the power of an elimination diet.
Because an elimination diet can involve removing a lot of particular foods from your normal meals and snacks, you want to ensure you're still getting the proper nutrition. This is why we recommend working with a healthcare professional like an allergist. They can guide you on safely going through an elimination diet.
Great question! Celiac disease is indeed a food allergy — to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat. Long story short, people with celiac disease simply can't digest this protein properly. So, their immune system steps up to "fight" it.
Is celiac disease genetic? The answer is... yes and no. While people with a family history of celiac disease are more likely to get it, it's not guaranteed.
And, similar to what we talked about earlier, there are gluten allergies and there are gluten sensitivities. They are not the same thing!
Allergic reactions to gluten indicate an immune reaction. With a gluten food sensitivity, the body's immune response isn't triggered, although you might experience unpleasant symptoms.
Food allergies can be debilitating, but with food allergy testing, you can get to the bottom of your symptoms. Undergo the necessary blood tests, discover if you need to eliminate certain foods from your diet (or at least cut back on them), and get your allergic symptoms and food intolerances under control.