In honour of Allergy Awareness Week I will be sharing a story everyday from different bloggers each with a different message or view of life with allergies or dietary related problems. In the hope that we can raise awareness and get people thinking about those suffering with the everyday issues of not being able to eat the most simplest of foods. Today I am honoured to share a post by Lottie from Little Miss Free From. I was lucky enough to meet Lottie at the Allergy Blog Awards this February and we hit off straight away, so I was so pleased when she agreed to join my blogging week. Lottie like me suffers from Coeliac Disease and has given us a great post on Food Allergies vs having Food Intolerance’s our house shares both sides to this so I know only too well the side effects of both and the issues that can surround this discussion.
If you are reading this you probably have one, or both and you’re probably thinking ‘Well, yes, obviously!’ We all suffer these conditions, it’s a way of living that requires endless perseverance, painful mistakes, disappointment, hunger, jealousy and (for allergy parents) nerves of steel as they set their little ones off into the world with the risk of other parents not getting it.
In this community of sufferers there is endless support and advice. Our inflictions are like badges, medals of endurance that we all understand. However there is a sense of ‘oh you’re intolerant not allergic?’ that applies with coeliac disease. I don’t for a second doubt the severity and risk that surrounds certain allergies and particularly the severity of nut allergies due to the reaction and the ease of contamination on contact. But I also don’t think those with coeliac disease ‘suffer less’ or have a condition that shouldn’t be taken as seriously as allergy sufferers.
Do I need to differentiate between my autoimmune disease being an intolerance and not an allergy? Here are the facts from AllergyUK:
‘Atopy, or being atopic, means having a genetic tendency for your immune system to make increased levels of IgE antibodies to certain allergens. An atopic individual is likely to have more than one allergic condition during their lifetime’ (www.allergyuk.org). This includes allergic rhinitis, asthma and eczema which (same as coeliac disease) results in some kind of inflammation from allergy-inducing substances (airborne or ingested). Allergens are proteins that are recognised by the immune system as harmful. ‘A few people develop immune-system reactions to foods where the IgE allergy antibody is not involved. They may develop contact reactions to foods caused by immune system cell reactions, or by other, more unusual antibodies. The symptoms caused by these reactions are generally more delayed and less severe than IgE allergy reactions but may lead to chronic symptoms in the gut (pain, diarrhoea, generalized unwellness)’.
In Food Allergy vs Food Intolerance the symptoms/effects listed are broadly the same (see also Wheat Reactions on www.allergyuk.org) however where the reaction is caused by the body mistakenly making an antibody (IgE) this reaction is referred to as a ‘classic’ allergy and distinguished from intolerances which are not a ‘true allergy.’ We recognise food intolerances cause chronic illnesses, and symptoms caused by intolerance include fatigue, bloating, irritable bowel, joint pains, rashes, nettle rash, eczema and migraine… ‘however, it is very rare for true allergy to be an issue in these conditions’ (www.allergyuk.org).
My intolerance is severe enough to have me out of action spooning a hot water bottle for a few days if soy sauce or barley makes its way to my intestines. As a sufferer of coeliac disease, allergic rhinitis, asthma, allergies to certain medication including penicillin and certain chemicals in cleaning/ household products, I would have to say the most inconvenient and painful all-year-round-suffering has to be caused by my coeliac disease (although ask me again in summer when I’m stretching my eyes out and I might say differently!) I can also take antihistamines and steroids to reduce the symptoms of my ‘allergies’ but no such luck should I be struck with a reaction to wheat/gluten.
My concern in labelling it an ‘intolerance’ is the misunderstanding this creates in society and particularly in restaurants. It’s difficult enough dealing with the gluten free fad that became a health trend. If you Google ‘food allergy vs food intolerance’ it will come up with multiple comparison tables suggesting things like ‘can tolerate small quantities’ and ‘delayed reaction up to 72hrs later’. This means whenever you explain you are gluten free you are met with a preconception that you are either a fussy eater or on a health kick, and invites less caution as it’s not ‘serious’. As I said before, this isn’t to undermine the severity of allergies and the life threatening reaction they pose, but to stress that I actually need my food handled in a way that any allergy sufferer would expect, free from contamination of traces of flour and crumbs. If I’m ‘only intolerant’ the assumption is I can handle a low level of contamination, and I can promise you my intestines say otherwise. It implies that it’s a lack of tolerance but that it’s bearable and less impacting (which definitely isn’t the case.)
There are undoubtedly different severities of allergic reactions, and I’d never claim all are equal in their affects and the risk they pose to individuals health. But a classification of ‘food intolerance vs food allergy’ is a distinction that arguably unhelpful, unfair, misleading and perhaps dangerous in what it implies to people less aware of the effects. It’s a different type of allergic reaction if we want to be technical, but ultimately still a reaction to an allergen and still causes the same types of symptoms. Should it not count as a ‘true allergy’ rather than sounding like it’s been made up?
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