Ask Dr. Nandi: Why millions of people wrongly believe they have food allergies

Posted at 2:40 PM, Jan 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-09 17:38:01-05

Millions of Americans believe they have a food allergy. But a new study finds, many of them actually don’t.

Question: How can that many people think they have a food allergy and be wrong?

What this study found, was that many people are confusing food allergies with food intolerances. And they are also self-diagnosing. Over 40,000 adults were surveyed and surprisingly, 19% of them said they had allergies based on symptoms they believed were allergy related. But of all the folks that took part, less than 11% of them actually had food allergies.

Question: What’s the difference between food allergies and food intolerance?

I have so many patients ask me that question. And I get it, it can be confusing. But here’s the main difference. If you have a food allergy, your immune system overacts. It thinks a certain food is dangerous and triggers a protective response. You may experience vomiting, hives, wheezing, a swollen tongue, trouble swallowing, or anaphylaxis. And that can be deadly. Because anaphylaxis causes your blood pressure to drop, impairs your breathing and you could go into shock. Bottom line, food allergies are serious. When it comes to food intolerances, they are generally less serious but can still negatively impact your life. They tend to affect your digestive system, so you might experience symptoms like stomach pain, bloating and gas.

Question: How can people confirm if they have a food allergy or not?

If you experience negative reactions after eating, you should first talk to your doctor. And the reason why is part of my prescriptions today.

1. If a food causes you discomfort, note what foods you ate and how they made you feel.

2. Know the signs that food allergies cause. Not all reactions will be exactly the same every time you eat a specific food. They can change from mild to severe.

3. Don’t self-diagnose. Doctors are trained professionals and understand food intolerances and allergies. Plus it’s possible your symptoms indicate a different medical condition like eosinophilic esophagitis or celiac disease.

4. If you think you only have a food intolerance, still see your doctor. You want to make sure you’re not unnecessarily avoiding foods and missing out on nutrients that could impact your health.