The Doctor Is In - How to understand your food allergies - Tucson Local Media: The Doctor Is In

The Doctor Is In - How to understand your food allergies

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Paul Afek, M.D.

Posted: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 4:00 am

With the recent outbreaks of tainted food – from produce to pantry staples like peanut butter – Americans are paying more attention than ever to what they eat. For the several million Americans living with food intolerances and allergies, meticulously reading food labels and monitoring reactions to certain foods is an everyday routine.

Food Intolerance

A food intolerance is different from a true food allergy because it does not involve the immune system. Food intolerance is an abnormal reaction – such as abdominal pain or gas after consuming milk – after eating a certain food. Common symptoms of food intolerance includes gas, cramps, bloating and heartburn, possibly severe nausea, headaches or vomiting.

Food Allergy

Food allergies affect an estimated six to seven million Americans and are becoming increasingly common among both children and adults. The effects are often underestimated: a food allergy can cause serious health problems and even death. What’s more, a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control suggests that food allergies are becoming more prevalent. An October 2008 CDC study found that child food allergies alone are up 18 percent over the last decade. Some of these allergies can be outgrown in time, but others last into adulthood.

A food allergy is much more serious than a food intolerance. In the case of a food allergy, the body’s immune system will perceive an ordinary food as a contaminant, and the immune system will release antibodies to fight the foreign agent.

Eight types of foods are responsible for 90 percent of food allergies, according to the CDC: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.

Symptoms can appear after exposure to only a trace amount of the allergen and can range from mild to severe. Symptoms may include hives, which are red, swollen, itchy bumps on the skin that appear suddenly, a red, itchy rash on the skin, a stuffy or itchy nose or eyes, congestion or sneezing, gas, stomach or abdominal cramps, vomiting or diarrhea.

A severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, can involve any of the above symptoms, as well as a feeling of lightheadedness, anxiety, throat tightness, coughing or breathing difficulties – and, if not treated promptly, can lead to death. Immediate medical attention is imperative for a severe allergic reaction – even if the symptoms subside.

Your doctor can help you to distinguish between a food intolerance and a food allergy and determine the most appropriate treatment, including if an allergist or immunologist should be seen.

A food allergy is generally diagnosed through a medical exam and a review of symptoms and foods that trigger the symptoms. You may be asked to keep a food diary to help determine foods that are causing the allergic reaction, and foods may later be introduced by your doctor in a controlled environment to determine their effect.  

(Editor’s Note: Paul Afek, M.D., is a family medicine physician practicing with Northwest Allied Physicians.  His office may be reached at 744-2441 or at

© 2017 Tucson Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Welcome to the discussion.

Wednesday 09/03/2014

Six steps to a shorter hospital stay 

Wednesday 08/21/2013

The Doctor Is In: Give your baby a healthy start

Wednesday 07/17/2013

The Doctor Is In: Feeling Restless? It might not be “in your head”

Wednesday 06/05/2013

The Doctor Is In: Start early to prevent heart disease

Wednesday 05/01/2013

The Doctor Is In: It’s never too late to start taking care of your bones and joints

Wednesday 03/20/2013

The Doctor Is In: Colorectral cancer: Screening is the key

Wednesday 03/06/2013

The Doctor Is In: Diagnosing your heart health

Friday 02/22/2013

The Dentist is in: The work to make smiles brighter

Wednesday 01/23/2013

The Doctor Is In: Understanding food allergies in an active lifestyle

Wednesday 01/16/2013

The Dentist Is In: Why do I have bad breath? The Doctor Is In: The connection between psoriasis and arthritis

Wednesday 12/26/2012

The Doctor is In - Steps to overcoming infertility

Wednesday 12/19/2012

The Dentist Is In: The connection between the health of your mouth and the health of your body

Wednesday 11/21/2012

The Dentist Is In: A broken tooth can ruin any good meal The Doctor Is In: ’Tis the Season - How to keep off the extra pounds

Wednesday 11/14/2012

The Doctor Is In: Endometriosis: The pain is treatable if the disease is correctly diagnosed

Tuesday 11/06/2012

The Doctor Is In: Play it smart - Sports physicals can save lives

Wednesday 10/31/2012

The Doctor Is In: Advice: Breast cancer screening saves lives

Wednesday 10/10/2012

The Doctor is in: Dementia: Alzheimer’s or something else?

Wednesday 09/19/2012

The Doctor Is In: The West Nile Virus, precautions advised

Wednesday 09/05/2012

The Doctor Is In: Arthritis can strike any age

Wednesday 08/29/2012

The Doctor is in: Controlling varicose veins

Tuesday 08/14/2012

The Doctor Is In - Chronic stress can lead to chronic health conditions

Wednesday 08/08/2012

The Doctor Is In: COPD - It is preventable

Wednesday 08/01/2012

The Doctor Is In: Weight-loss surgery sheds pounds, improves health

Wednesday 07/25/2012

The Doctor is In: What to do when the wounds just won’t heal

Wednesday 07/18/2012

The doctor is in: Sleep: Good health is related to quality and quantity of slumber

Wednesday 06/27/2012

The Doctor Is In: Women living with endometriosis

Wednesday 06/13/2012

The Doctor Is In: Arthritis: Common types and treatments

Wednesday 06/06/2012

The Doctor Is In: Summer safety is important

Wednesday 05/09/2012

The Doctor Is In - How to understand your food allergies

Wednesday 05/02/2012

The Doctor Is In - Preventing cancer starts with the annual Pap test

Wednesday 04/11/2012

The Doctor Is In - How to help your kids avoid Type 2 Diabetes

Wednesday 04/04/2012

The Doctor is in: Leg pain signals heart trouble

Wednesday 03/14/2012

The Doctor Is In - Hit the hay for heart health

Wednesday 03/07/2012

The Doctor Is In: Getting headaches regularly? Is it time to see a doctor?

Wednesday 02/29/2012

The Doctor Is In - ADHD - Can the disorder be treated without medication?

Wednesday 02/22/2012

The Doctor Is In - Vitamin C: What it does, why you need it, where to find it

Wednesday 02/08/2012

The Doctor Is In - Depression: Don’t dismiss the blues

Wednesday 01/04/2012

The Doctor is In - Prediabetes: Obesity and diabetes share common risks and solutions

Wednesday 12/28/2011

The Doctor is In: Cold or allergy? How to tell the difference

Wednesday 12/21/2011

The Doctor is In: Steering kids away from salt

Wednesday 12/14/2011

The Doctor is In - Information on Childhood obesity

Friday 12/02/2011

The Doctor Is In - Don’t Be Down for the Count this Year: Cold and Flu Facts


Follow us on Facebook

Online poll