Consumer Reports: Food intolerance vs food allergy

Have you heard someone say they were "a little" allergic to some food? Consumer Reports says there's no such thing, and while some of the symptoms of an allergy and a food intolerance are similar, the differences between the two are critical.

A large study found that 19 percent of people believed they had a food allergy. But in reality, only 11 percent actually had a true food allergy.

Why the confusion? The difference is that a food intolerance affects the digestive system, while allergies attack the immune system.

"People with intolerances can still eat the food without serious consequences, but for someone with an allergy, touching, inhaling, or ingesting even a microscopic amount of the allergenic food can be deadly," Consumer Reports Health Editor Lauren Friedman.

"First, speak to an allergist to make sure it's not a food allergy, again, food allergies can be severe and can be fatal," said Dr. Jen Camacho, an allergist. "If it's not a food allergy, I think it's important to speak to your physician and possibly, keep a log of you symptoms, keep a log of your diet, identify what are the foods that are not making you feel as well."

Consumer Reports says an intolerance could stem from a variety of reasons, like irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease or sensitivity to food additives. It may cause discomfort, but it's not fatal.

It's important to know that you can develop food allergies and intolerances AFTER childhood. Nearly half of those with food allergies in the study reported the onset of a new one in adulthood.

"It can be confusing to a patient," said Dr. Camacho. "The most important thing I would say is to identify whether it is a food allergy, because if it is a food allergy, then you need to have certain precautions in place and carry certain medications in case you do have a food allergic reaction. Helping to identify whether it's an intolerance is also important because it can make your quality of life much better."

If you or your loved one have a food allergy, be careful in the kitchen, especially if your handling utensils tainted with food that might trigger an allergic reaction. And remember to clean surfaces with warm and soapy water and to wash your hands properly.

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