Allergy vs Sensitivity
There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding when it comes to allergies. The word “allergy” is derived from two Greek words meaning “altered reaction”. The substance that provokes a reaction in an individual is called an “allergen” or “antigen”. The substance can include food, dust, mold, pollen, or other substances.
When the medical industry began to scientifically understand allergies in the 1930s, it discovered a biochemical pathway in the body that caused typical hay fever symptoms that we all know so well. This pathway involved an immune compound in our blood and tissues called Ig E which was responsible for an immediate allergic reaction: exposure to ragweed caused sneezing, itching and runny nose. It is this definition of allergy that became accepted by the medical community.
As time and medicine progressed, it was discovered that other pathways in the body also lead to specific symptoms and could produce delayed reactions. Whereas immediate reactions occur within minutes to several hours after exposure to an allergen, delayed reactions can occur anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after exposure to an allergenic food or substance. Unfortunately, this does not fit into the classic example of “immediate type Ig E allergy” and thus the concept of delayed food and chemical allergy has been very difficult for the medical community to accept. Consequently, we prefer the word “sensitivity” or “intolerance” to describe any reaction to a food, chemical or other substance that does not fit the classic “immediate type Ig E allergy” mechanism.
We have several mechanisms and corresponding words that describe food-triggered symptoms. A food allergy generally refers to the specific situation where an immediate and readily identifiable food reaction occurs in the respiratory, digestive or skin systems. These symptoms include sneezing, itching, and hives. Food sensitivity includes these limited immediate food allergy symptoms and can also include other immediate or delayed symptoms or reactions to a food substance. The resultant symptoms are immediate if identifiable within several hours after the ingestion or are delayed if the reaction occurred 12 hours later or sometimes up to for or more days after the food contact. Delayed reactions are almost always “hidden” and are subsequently difficult to identify.
Hidden food sensitivity causes some of the most common, chronic and incapacitating illnesses in today’s society. The symptoms may not emerge noticeably until long after eating the causative foods, and many foods may be causing symptoms simultaneously. Therefore, many such patients suffer puzzling illnesses and are chronically sick. Unfortunately, they are not usually aware that foods have anything to do with their symptoms.
Symptoms and Conditions Related to Food Sensitivity:
As stated, food sensitivity symptoms can include any body area and organ systems. If you have any of these symptoms or conditions, they may be caused or aggravated by a food sensitivity. The symptoms and conditions related to food sensitivities may include, but are not limited to the following:
- Head: chronic headaches, sinus headaches, migraines, difficulty sleeping, dizziness, red face
- Eyes, Ears, Nose and Throat: runny or stuffy nose, post nasal drip, ringing in the ears, red ears, earaches, vertigo, blurred vision, eye pain, conjunctivitis, dark circles under eyes, bad breath, geographic tongue, mouth ulcers, recurrent upper respiratory infections and colds, recurrent ear infections
- Heart and Lungs: irregular or rapid heartbeats, palpitations, high blood pressure, asthma, wheezing, chronic cough
- Gastrointestinal: Infantile colic, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, loose stools, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis (Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis), stomach/duodenal ulcers, reflux, heartburn, indigestion, gallbladder conditions, mal-absorption syndromes
- Kidney, Bladder and Reproductive System: bed wetting, cystitis, interstitial cystitis, recurrent urinary tract infections, blood in urine, nephritis, glomerulonephritis, recurrent vaginitis, PMS
- Skin: hives, eczema, psoriasis, acne
- Muscles and Joints: muscle and joint pain, arthritis, lupus, muscle weakness
- Overall and Others: fatigue, hypoglycemia, starch and sugar cravings, hyperactivity and attention deficit, behavior problems, learning problems, convulsions, bulimia, obesity, anxiety, panic reactions, depression, mental dullness, memory lapses, mood swings and irritability, anger outbursts, difficulty thinking
Which symptom or symptoms occur depends entirely upon the person and most likely their genetic inheritances. While anybody system can be affected, most allergy sufferers have a “target” organ or organs that are affected by the sensitivity reaction. For some, this may be the nose (chronic nose congestion and post nasal drip), for others it may be the brain (headaches, confusion, depression). Some will experience the same symptom each time they have a food reaction, regardless of which food is ingested. Others will report different symptoms for each different allergic food.
How Is Food Allergy Testing Done?
Blood tests are done to measure the level of antibodies or immunoglobulin in the blood. For those suffering from severe, immediate allergic reactions, such as asthma or throat swelling, an allergen-specific immunoglobulin IgE antibodies testing is performed for certain foods or environmental triggers, like pet dander or pollen. To test for delayed onset sensitivities to certain foods, a more involved test would check IgG, IgA, and IgM antibody levels to identify antigens that contribute to chronic diseases. IgG blood testing is the most common test ordered. At the Functional Medicine Center, we like to look at all three levels in the blood. We also order IgA and IgM saliva tests that help decrease FALSE NEGATIVES. Results from immunoglobulin testing help allergy sufferers and their health practitioners form an effective wellness plan.