Food allergies and intolerances

Sometimes a particular food or group of foods can cause your body to react unusually, even severely. Being allergic to a particular food is different to having a food intolerance.

If you have an allergy, your body will usually react to the offending food very quickly, often within minutes. Symptoms include rashes, wheezing and vomiting, and sometimes sufferers can collapse. Allergies are serious and can be life-threatening. Foods that can cause allergic reactions include eggs, soya, milk, peanuts, sesame and other seeds, wheat and fish/seafood. People who have a food allergy need to make sure they avoid the food that causes it, sometimes even making sure they never come into contact with it, as even a small amount could cause a reaction.

If you do have a food allergy, it is important that you know what causes it, the symptoms to look out for and how to manage an allergic reaction if it happens. Food allergies can be accurately diagnosed through a skin or blood test. Your GP or specialist will make sure that you have the correct, up-to-date information and any necessary medication.

Food intolerances are much more difficult to diagnose. Symptoms can take hours to appear and can last for hours. These include headaches, stomach cramps, tiredness, rashes and bloating. Some chronic diseases (illnesses that go on for a long time or constantly come back), such as eczema, are sometimes linked to food intolerances. If your GP suspects you may have a food intolerance, he/she will refer you to a specialist. The best way to identify whether a food intolerance is contributing to a chronic illness is through an elimination diet that will be tailored to your needs by a specialist dietitian. These diets must be followed strictly and for the correct period of time. It is not a good idea to cut out foods unless you are advised to do so by your doctor or dietitian.

You can find out more information about food allergies and intolerances on the Allergy UK website.