What Are The Differences? | Food Allergy, Food Intolerance And Coeliac Disease

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Photo | HannahElizabeth.co.uk

There are many options now available for those who suffer from food allergy, intolerance and coeliac disease but the distinction between the three is often misunderstood. 

Lets look at the differences:

Coeliac disease

Coeliac disease is an auto-immune disease, where the body reacts to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. There are a wide range of symptoms and many do not always seem to be related to food, for example, feeling tired all the time. Symptoms differ between individuals and some people are not aware they have any symptoms at all. Coeliac disease is not treated by drugs but by a gluten-free diet. There are serious complications of coeliac disease if left undiagnosed, such as malabsorption and malnutrition. This can lead to deficiencies resulting in conditions like anaemia or osteoporosis.

Coeliac UK describes the following symptoms that may affect sufferers:

• Severe or occasional diarrhoea, excessive wind and/or constipation
• Persistent or unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting
• Recurrent stomach pain, cramping or bloating
• Any combination of iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency
• Anaemia
• Tiredness
• Sudden or unexpected weight loss (but not in all cases)
• Mouth ulcers
• Hair loss (alopecia)
• Skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
• Tooth enamel problems
• Depression
• Liver abnormalities
• Repeated miscarriages
• Neurological (nerve) problems such as ataxia (loss of coordination, poor balance) and    peripheral neuropathy (numbness and tingling in the hands and feet)

Food Allergy

FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) describe an allergy:

“Food allergies are “IgE mediated.” This means that your immune system produces abnormally large amounts of an antibody called immunoglobulin E — IgE for short. IgE antibodies fight the “enemy” food allergens by releasing histamine and other chemicals, which trigger the symptoms of an allergic reaction.”

Common food allergies include milk, gluten, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish.

FARE states, “tree nuts include, but are not limited to, walnut, almond, hazelnut, cashew, pistachio, and Brazil nuts. These are not to be confused or grouped together with peanut, which is a legume, or seeds, such as sunflower or sesame.”

Food allergy symptoms according to FARE:

 Mild symptoms may include one or more of the following:

• Hives (reddish, swollen, itchy areas on the skin)
• Eczema (a persistent dry, itchy rash)
• Redness of the skin or around the eyes
• Itchy mouth or ear canal
• Nausea or vomiting
• Diarrhoea
• Stomach pain
• Nasal congestion or a runny nose
• Sneezing
• Slight, dry cough
• Odd taste in mouth
• Uterine contractions

Severe symptoms may include one or more of the following:

• Obstructive swelling of the lips, tongue, and/or throat
• Trouble swallowing
• Shortness of breath or wheezing
• Turning blue
• Drop in blood pressure (feeling faint, confused, weak, passing out)
• Loss of consciousness
• Chest pain
• A weak or “thread” pulse
• Sense of “impending doom”

Food intolerances

While sometimes resulting in similar symptoms to food allergies, food intolerance does not cause anaphylaxis, where food allergy can. This is just one reason why it is so important to be diagnosed properly by a medical professional.

It is not fully understood what causes food intolerance. The NHS states:

“It can also be difficult to tell apart from other digestive disorders that produce similar symptoms, such as inflammatory bowel disease, gastrointestinal obstructions or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)”.

Food intolerance, whilst not directly life threatening, can cause a wide range of symptoms that can greatly affect quality of life. The Cleveland Clinic in the United States, describe a food intolerance as a digestive system response, rather than an immune system response.

They report the following symptoms for food intolerance:

• Nausea
• Stomach pain
• Gas, cramps or bloating
• Vomiting
• Heartburn
• Diarrhoea
• Headaches
• Irritability or nervousness

I hope this article is useful and sheds light on the differences between food allergy, intolerance and coeliac disease however it is for information purposes only. If you suffer any one of the symptoms listed, please see a doctor who can provide the relevant tests in the hope of finding out the true cause of your symptoms. Do not self diagnose and do not put yourself on a gluten-free diet before having the appropriate tests conducted by a medical profession, especially if you think you may have coeliac disease. Removing gluten before taking the relevant tests can result in a false-negative result and missed diagnosis.

What are your experiences with any of the above? Feel free to share in the comments section.

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