We have no medical training and aren’t offering advice. This is just what we’ve learned over our 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.
Allergic 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. Intolerances are often only a problem if a large amount of the food is eaten, the food is eaten frequently and usually comes on gradually. Intolerances often also cause bloating, gas, heartburn and headaches. 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.
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)
Coughing at night when lying down – can be post nasal drip or asthma or reflux
Allergy tests look for an autoimmune response. There are several that are used:
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). Multiple allergies can be tested at once, both food and environment. Delayed allergic reactions can’t be tested 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. These 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 the rash or blisters develop.
Blood Test – RAST
These are blood tests that can be used to assess presence of IgE antibodies of specific foods in the blood. These are less common than skin tests. Blood tests will also be used to 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. Its fairly straightforward, the patient inhales deeply and blows out as fast as they can into a tube that measures lung capacity. You’ll be given a number for your lung function and told it its within the normal range, or if not, then how restricted it is. If the lung function is lower than it should be ‘puffers’ which are steroids will be discussed.
Sometimes the best test is to take out foods that are common allergies, or that are suspected of causing a reaction, for a period of 4-6 weeks to see if symptoms improve. Again this is carried out under the care of your Allergist and having the right information about substitutes for foods, such as milk, is important so that vital vitamins and minerals aren’t lost from your diet. One the exclusion period is finished, foods are reintroduced one at time to check for a reaction.