This is just what we’ve learned over our allergy journey and hope that you’ll find it useful to read. Always, always go to an allergists via your GP. Please don’t get any testing via the internet. I know how frustrating allergies can be, and how difficult it can be to get help, but please don’t let people without medical knowledge part you from your money.
The medical difference between an intolerance and an allergy is that an allergy is an autoimmune response that can be serious. An intolerance is an inability to digest a food type (typically dairy) and while unpleasant it can’t be life threatening. Both types of reactions share the following symptoms – nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting. There are key differences which you need to look out for.
Reactions are caused by even a small amount of the food, happen every time, and usually come on quickly – however with all things allergy there are exceptions to this and some people suffer from delayed allergic reactions.
Allergies cause hives, swelling – particularly around lips/eyes/tongue, wheezing, tight chest and extreme gastric distress and can, sometimes, be serious enough to cause blood pressure to fall. Anaphylaxis shock is a life threatening allergic reaction which requires immediate and urgent medical attention. In short, allergies can kill, intolerances can’t.
These are often only a problem if a large amount of the food is eaten or the food is eaten frequently. The reaction usually comes on gradually. Intolerances often cause bloating, gas, heartburn and headaches.
Common Allergy Symptoms
We get all of these!
Swelling of lips/eyes
‘Spicy’ Mouth’ – often children refuse food as being ‘spicy’ when there are no ‘hot’ spices in the food
Reflux – While reflux is a condition is its own right, it is also an allergic reaction
Dark circles under eyes
Constant coughing, tight chest (allergic reaction or asthma) Particularly at night or when lying down.
Allergy tests look for an autoimmune response.
Skin Prick Test
This is the most common. A small amount of the allergen is placed on the skin, and a then a small scratch made in the skin. An allergic reaction will appear within 20 minutes (or in our case, pretty much immediately with environmental allergies). The SPT test method means that multiple allergies can be tested at once, both food and environment. Sadly delayed allergic reactions can’t be tested in this way.
These tests test for contact dermatitis. The allergist places a small amount of allergen on the back and arms with a disc and bandage covering the patch. The patches are left in place for 48-72 hours to give time for a reaction to take place. Take my word for it – it can get pretty uncomfortable as they start to react!
Blood Test – RAST
These are blood tests that assess the presence of IgE antibodies of specific foods in the blood. Blood tests will also check for Celiac disease if gluten seems to be an issue.
Spirometry (Lung Function Tests)
This is a test that checks lung function for those with, or suspected of having, asthma. It’s fairly straightforward, the patient inhales deeply and blows out as fast as they can into a tube that measures lung capacity. You’ll be told if your lung function is within the normal range for your age and height, if the lung function is lower than it should be treatment will be discussed.
Elimination diets take out suspected foods for a period of 4-6 weeks to see if symptoms improve. Don’t do this yourself, make sure you are under the care of a doctor. Taking food groups out of your diet can cause deficiencies, and you need to understand how to eat properly on an elimination diet. After 4-6 weeks you can start to reintroduce foods one at a time. This will tell you which are causing the problems.