Know the difference
The symptoms of food allergy and food intolerance can overlap, so confusing them is easy. According to the Mayo Clinic, a food allergy occurs when your immune system mistakenly identifies a food as dangerous and starts fighting it like a disease. A food intolerance doesn't involve the immune system, and small amounts of the offending food don't trigger a response. With an allergy, any amount of the food leads to a reaction, which includes symptoms such as hives, swelling or dizziness. Both an allergy and an intolerance can cause stomach and digestive symptoms.
See a doctor
If you or a family member seems to react to certain foods, seek medical attention. Only a doctor can determine the difference between a food allergy and food intolerance, but the distinction can be crucial. A food intolerance can be horribly uncomfortable and draining, but food allergies can be dangerous -- even life threatening.
Kelly Courson, lifestyle editor of CeliacChicks.com, self-diagnosed with celiac disease 13 years ago. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder involving a variety of reactions to gluten -- a protein found in wheat -- including fatigue, intestinal issues and painful skin rashes, among others. She agrees with seeking medical attention for potential food allergies and intolerances, although she suggests using your own instincts as well. "Try to get a proper diagnosis from a medical professional. If you ultimately can't get one and your body is still telling you that something is wrong, listen to it. A good doctor will tell you that, ultimately, you are the one person responsible for your health," she says.
Allergies and children
Monitor allergies and intolerances in children carefully, because they often outgrow them. Interestingly, the US Department of Health and Human Services reports that people react to foods that are most common in their diets. In Japan, for example, rice allergy is common. In Scandinavia, it's codfish allergy. Because children can outgrow their allergies, keep a close eye on them as life quality can improve vastly if staple foods can be reintroduced into their diets.
While the causes and types of food allergies and intolerances are varied, universal treatment is avoidance. Your doctor can recomment emergency treatment for accidental ingestion in severe cases. At first, carefully reading ingredient lists to avoid problem foods will be inconvenient, but, as Kelly reports from her own experience, "You get used to it, and it becomes second nature."