Avoiding A Mistaken Self-Diagnosis of Food Allergy

The number of adults with self-reported food allergies increased significantly between 2001 and 2010, and this trend may be continuing.

Self-reported food allergy (srFA) is a self diagnosis of allergy that is not subsequently confirmed by seeing a doctor or allergist, and may negatively affect a person’s health and quality of life.

Self-Diagnosis Issues

People with a srFA might, for instance, avoid a particular food group unnecessarily, and be needlessly wary of food-related social encounters. They might even cause a restaurant staff to expend precious time and effort creating an allergy free meal, when an allergy does not exist.

There are also several health conditions that can be easily mistaken for a food allergy, for instance:

  • Food additives (e.g., dyes, flavor enhancers, sulfites), histamine toxicity, and microorganisms (food poisoning) can create symptoms that mimic food allergy.
  • Gluten-sensitive enteropathy and lactose intolerance are digestive problems often mislabeled as wheat or dairy allergies.
  • Several gastrointestinal disorders - gallstones, peptic ulcer, Crohn’s disease, non-ulcer dyspepsia, certain cancers, and eosinophilic gastroenteritis - have been misconstrued as food allergies.
  • Psychological reactions related to traumatic food events are rare, but do occur. A child could, for example, choke on a peanut and years later experience a rash or hives after consuming them.

Getting a proper diagnosis and treatment for these ailments can save individuals considerable discomfort and worry.

What Allergies Are Not

Although a correct diagnosis for any food related symptoms should be left to professionals, it may help people avoid inaccurate assumptions by knowing what food allergy and its symptoms are not.

Allergy symptoms are not confined to the stomach and intestines. Since allergies are an immune system response, food reactions cause whole body problems such as swelling, hives, breathing, and swallowing difficulties, sneezing, and wheezing.

Food reactions are not known for triggering headaches, or hyperactive behavior, and the onset of allergy symptoms is generally not delayed—symptoms arise almost instantaneously after allergen exposure, though delayed onset infrequently occurs.

Finally, people with food allergy cannot eat a tiny bite of an offending food and be okay; they cannot ingest the triggering substance without having a reaction.

Pinpointing the Problem

If, then, a person’s food related symptoms come on gradually, occur primarily in the GI tract, involve headaches, hyperactivity, and are occasionally absent after eating a troublesome food, the problem is likely not a food allergy. Their difficulty might be a food intolerance, sensitivity, toxic reaction, or owed to a gastrointestinal disorder.

The best way to begin pinpointing the symptoms’ source is consulting with a medical professional.

Sources: NCBI; Prevention; Medicine Net
Photo credit: Ilmicrofono Oggiono

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