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We consume a variety of foods each day, relying on nutrition to provide energy, vitamins, and nutrients the body needs. While most of us make our choices depending on our mood and personal tastes, some people must navigate the challenges of a food allergy, a condition that can range from mild to possibly life-threatening. Others may find that certain foods cause an upset stomach, possibly a headache, or intestinal discomfort. While these instances may not be an actual allergy, they may be a food sensitivity. Both food allergies and food sensitivities need to be managed for the health of the individual.

Food Allergies: Food allergies involve the immune system’s response to a food or food group. When a certain food is eaten, the body sees it as something to be attacked, so it sends a large number of antibodies, which produce an allergic response. Possible allergic reactions include a rash, hives, itchy skin, an upset stomach, and diarrhea. Though not as common, some people suffer a serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis causes the airways to narrow and the blood pressure to drop quickly, a dangerous condition that can be fatal without an injection of epinephrine. Those with a severe allergy should have emergency epinephrine shot on them at all times. If you are with someone who is experiencing anaphylaxis, call 911 immediately. Common foods are known to cause allergic reactions are tree nuts, milk, eggs, peanuts, shellfish, wheat, and soy. If you suspect a food allergy, contact your doctor for testing and treatment if needed.

Food Sensitivities: Unlike food allergies that are an immune response, food sensitivities are a response of the gastrointestinal system. Food sensitivities can develop over time, becoming more common as we age. Our bodies may no longer make all of the needed enzymes to break down certain foods. Symptoms of food sensitivities include stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea, and sometimes headaches. If you believe you have food sensitivities, keep a journal to monitor what you eat and how you feel. You can see if there are patterns that indicate a problem. You can also try eliminating one type of food at a time and seeing if symptoms improve. Discussing your symptoms with your doctor is recommended, and he or she may recommend you work with a dietician or nutritionist.

If you are experiencing any allergic reactions or symptoms of food sensitivity, consult with your medical professional to see what is causing the trouble and what you can do about it. Both food allergies and food sensitivities can be identified and treated or prevented, keeping you safe and feeling well.