Smorgasbord Health Column – Family Health A-Z – Allergies and Intolerances – Part One – The difference between them by Sally Cronin

Although the focus has been on Covid this last year… there are still other health issues that have not gone away. Many are improved with simple treatments and dietary changes and in this series I am going to look at some of the more common issues.

I know that many of you who follow the blog will have seen the following post before but for those new to Smorgasbord, I hope you find useful.

 Allergies and Intolerances – Part One – The difference between them

In this post I am going to take a look at the terms Allergy and Intolerance and explain the differences between the two. Many people will say that they have an allergy to certain foods for example but in fact they have an intolerance.

There are many symptoms and common ailments that are linked to food allergies and finding out what might be causing these is step one in resolving the problem naturally.

Anxiety, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, ME. Hayfever, Celiac disease, diabetes, headaches and eczema are just some of the diseases that could be linked to certain foods. Certainly long term intolerance or allergy to foods can contribute to more serious conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis and Cancer.

The first reaction that most people have is to totally discard the food responsible and never touch it again. Some people develop such a totally restricted diet that they do themselves harm by denying their bodies the nutrients that are essential to their health and well-being.

Some practitioners will also advise their clients to stop consuming certain foods and it is important that a client always ask when they can begin introducing these restricted foods again. If a reaction is very severe then yes of course it would be absolutely essential not to touch that food. Peanuts are a prime example. Nut allergies however are just that an allergy, which is very different from an intolerance and the two should not be confused.

What is an allergy? And what is the difference between an allergy and an intolerance

An allergic reaction is immediate. It is a fast response. An intolerance is by contrast a slow reaction. The speed with which an individual will react to certain stimulants is governed by two antibodies called IgE and IgG.

An allergy is an immediate reaction to a toxic substance either in food or in the environment that causes established and well-documented side effects. Our body is protected by anti-bodies one of which is called IgE. The role of this antibody is to forcibly reject toxins and in doing so the body undergoes some severe reactions in its effort to clean and heal its systems. Because IgE antibodies are intelligent, each fresh attack is worse than the last because it learns to produce a more effective and violent response. This is why what begins as a mild sneezing and coughing reaction may develop over repeated exposure to a more dangerous and life threatening reaction. Some of the intense reactions likely to be experienced are:

  • Intense itching on specific parts of all over the skin.
  • Hives (swollen red nodules just under the skin)
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue and throat.
  • Severe headache,
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhoea

In severe cases this can lead to Anaphylactic shock which takes all of the above and leads to drop in blood pressure, extreme breathing difficulties, loss of consciousness and shock – all of which can be fatal.

What is an Intolerance?

An intolerance on the other hand is a build-up over time of the poisons in culprit foods, which cause the above symptoms in a mild or moderate form. In some cases it might only be intermittent and because it involves a build-up over a period of time it is very difficult to determine which food is the one causing the problem.

You might experience one or all of the above symptoms with differing severity and put it down to hay fever, or eating something that did not agree with you. You take an anti-histamine or a diarrhoea pill and the symptoms go away. A few weeks later you might suffer the same thing again but it is happening in isolation you do not connect to a common cause.

There is a different anti-body that seems to be involved in this type of delayed reaction and it is called IgG.

This antibody is more concerned with toxins that you have produced yourself rather than those that you have just ingested into your body. Its job is to rid the blood stream of toxins that have found their way into your system from the intestines. Because food in our digestive systems can take 24 hours to digest, the time taken for bacteria to get into the blood stream means a reaction might not take place for two to three days. Therefore difficult to pinpoint the problem food.

Apart from peanuts are there any other foods that might cause a severe reaction?

Everyone is individual and no one person reacts in the same way to any allergens but the most likely culprits for severe allergic reactions apart from nuts are peanuts (not a true nut) milk, eggs, soy, wheat and shellfish. All foods that most of us consider safe and extremely healthy. But if your chemical systems react to the chemicals in a food negatively, then these so called healthy foods can cause a severe reaction. Twenty percent of anaphylactic reactions appear to have no reason at all.

This type of allergy is likely to show up pretty quickly in childhood. There are some instances where a person’s chemical makeup has been changed through either drugs or treatments such as chemotherapy and they then begin to react to foods that they have eaten safely for years.

How do you treat an allergy of this severity?

In the first place avoidance of the food is essential. For example nut allergies are extremely difficult as many prepared products or meals eaten out may have some form of nut in them, which is not evident in the packaging or the menu description.

I have had a garden salad and found walnuts mixed in with it. Restaurants put other nuts on salads as a garnish. Despite new laws on labelling and food safety regulations, many menu items do not mention that it contains nuts and if you are not very careful you could inadvertently eat a piece without knowing.

Even more difficult is the use of crushed nuts in desserts – they are not even visible. It is much better than it used to be with food establishments and manufacturers legally obliged to label products and menu items carefully, however, if you are buying street food or even eating in a friend’s house you have to make sure to ask if it contains nuts or even nut oil.

What should you do immediately if someone goes into anaphylactic shock.

If someone is suffering from anaphylactic shock and you are on hand, you need to work very quickly. Usually the first signs may be reddened and swollen eyelids and wheezing. The person will look flushed and their ears will begin to swell.

Check to see if they are carrying adrenaline (Epi pen). It will usually be in the form of an injection kit. Most severe allergy sufferers, particularly those who have suffered anaphylaxis before will be carrying an injection on them and will also be wearing an ID bracelet. If they are unable to give themselves an injection, then you must do so. Straight into the muscle at the side of the thigh. That is the only place that a non-medical person should inject, as anywhere else could be dangerous. Adrenaline or epinephrine as it is also known, counters the intense reaction to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. It constricts the blood vessels, relaxes the muscles in the lungs to improve breathing, reverses the swelling and stimulates the heartbeat.

If they are not carrying adrenaline you must get them medical attention urgently. Try and keep them calm. If the emergency service say that they cannot get to you within minutes then put the person in a car and get them to the nearest medical emergency room as fast as possible. As soon as you get there one person rush in and tell them you have an anaphylactic shock patient coming in so that they can come out to the car with you.

Knowing how to react is vital, as I found out when I suffered two cases of anaphylactic shock. Once as a reaction to penicillin and once when I was attacked by fire ants in Texas. I was in full anaphylactic shock in minutes and luckily a neighbour drove us straight to the emergency room which was one block away. We arrived in bathing costumes and the driver dashed in and called for assistance. They were fast but it was still touch and go for about 20 minutes.

If you think that someone is going into this severe allergic reaction then act first and think later. Don’t wait to see if it develops, if breathing is beginning to be compromised then get help immediately.

Apart from food are there any other common causes fro this extreme reaction?

Quite a few people are allergic to latex which of course is found in rubber gloves and condoms. It mainly affects people who are in constant contact with latex products during medical procedures, like nurses and doctors. Patients who are in hospital for extended stays or have a lot of hands on medical treatment can develop an allergy.

There is a link to latex and food. It would seem that a person who reacts to latex might also react strongly to consuming bananas, avocados, kiwi, figs, peanuts, potatoes and tomatoes.

Other non-food allergens are bees, wasps and any other stinging insect such as the fire ants.

Are there less severe allergic reaction and what causes them?

Most of us at one time or another has suffered from a streaming nose, itchy eyes and some wheezing. It is an immediate reaction to contact with the allergen.

The top triggers are:

Inhalents (breathed in.)

Tree and plant pollens -Animal mites – House Dust mites – Mould spores -Tobacco smoke (contains over 4000 chemicals including banned pesticides and arsenic) -Car exhaust -Chemical products such as paint, dry cleaning solutions, perfumes and cosmetics)

Ingestants (taken by mouth)

Foods (dairy, eggs, peanuts, wheat, Soya, chocolate, tomatoes, corn, fish and shellfish) – Medications (antibiotics – tetanus) -Pesticides in food – Heavy metals in tap water

Contactants (by touch)

Plants (poison ivy, oak) – Jewellery (nickel, copper) – Latex – Beauty products (hair dye, cosmetics)

Should people take anti-histamines and diarrhea pills to deal with the less severe symptoms?

To be honest as a nutritional therapist, I understand that the body is simply trying to rid itself of toxins but I am as guilty as anyone of reaching for the packet of pills to relieve the symptoms of colds, hay fever and stomach upsets.

Being realistic, once you have those types of symptoms, particularly streaming nose and eyes and a stomach upset, it is virtually impossible to get on with your daily life. Working, caring for young children even walking the dog have to be done, so of course you need help to get through that.

But, there is a cause for your allergic reactions. We have already established that a full-blown allergy is likely to be a fast reaction and you will be able to identify the problem food or product immediately.

Far more challenging is finding the culprit for intermittent but consistently mild to moderate reactions, that happen days or weeks apart. Or there may be only one symptom such as sneezing or wind, bloating or a rash.

What sort of symptoms might be present with sort of intolerance?

Apart from skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis, which tends to be chronic and long term, there could be hives that come and go in a week. Wind problems, bloating, indigestion, fluttering stomach, stomach upsets or constipation.

Next week I will be looking at a specific food allergy/intolerance to Milk and other dairy products.. and also one of the reasons that someone might be suffering from a food intolerance and it is to do with the gut.

©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2021

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-three years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines, radio programmes and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: My books and reviews 2021


Thanks for visiting and I am always delighted to receive your feedback.. stay safe Sally.

38 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health Column – Family Health A-Z – Allergies and Intolerances – Part One – The difference between them by Sally Cronin

  1. Thank you for this very good explaination, whats happening in our body getting too close to toxines. I will translate and show it my mother. Last week she didn’t believe me again that she shouldn’t eat anything that would raise the purine level in the body. Now she is served again. 😉 My pity is a little limited. The body already knows what it is doing. Some people learn through pain. ;-( xx

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I have had issues with Hay fever most of my life so I understand how allergies can affect one. This is an excellent article, Sally. Thanks for all the good info. Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Informative post, Sally. I’ve struggled with intolerances for years and it was hard to pinpoint the issues and they do cause a lot of problems. I’ve found people aren’t open to intolerances and don’t take it seriously. In fact, I’ve been told its just a diet choice over a necessity. My strongest reaction is to nightshades and it took me years to figure that out. Thanks for sharing this! Xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Denise.. we all have a different DNA profile and also we have thousands of years of evolution to contend with. Depending on our origins, blood groups and ethnicity there are certain foods and fluids that we are sensitive too, intolerant of and allergic to. Certain allergies will be carried forward through families and as you say tough to pinpoint. You can only start with those you consume the most of and by reducing or eliminating 1 at a time for around 7 days it is often surprising which of the common foods is the problem. xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent article Sally it’s so important to be aware of the differences and how to treat someone if necessary having an asthmatic daughter can be a nightmare and the situation can change so quickly luckily Sara’s pretty good and avoids triggers where she can …Shared Hugs xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Smorgasbord Health Column – Family Health A-Z – Allergies and Intolerances – Part One – The difference between them by Sally Cronin | Retired? No one told me!

  6. So many things trigger our bodies that it’s hard to pinpoint the allergies sometimes. My wife had a scratch test with different substances. Her back looked like a road map when it was over.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is tough.. I tried an experiment a few years ago where I only ate the least allergenic foods which are pears, apples lamb, sweet potato, avocado, broccoli and drank water for five days and then added in one food at a time that I normally ate regularly for five days turned out that it was strawberries that gave me hives if I ate more than a week apart. Your poor wife that is tough… xx

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Smorgasbord Health Column – Family Health A-Z – Allergies and Intolerances – Part One – The difference between them by Sally Cronin – MobsterTiger

  8. One of our grandchildren has life threatening allergies to dairy, eggs and nuts. Many of the people who come across him treat it as an intolerance and that’s so frightening for us. When he was about 8 months old our daughter took him into a Starbucks to meet some friends. He went into anaphylactic shock, our daughter yelled for someone to get an ambulance whilst she used the Epi pen. She had to use the second Epi pen as well, and when the paramedics turned up ten minutes later they had to give him another dose in the ambulance. They think it was caused by coffee droplets in the air. We all scrutinise food packaging now and you’d be surprised how many meat products have dairy in them. He’s been rushed off to hospital several times and, since he collapsed at his primary school, the staff are all much more aware of the severity of the situation…
    I remember reading about your fire ants issue in your travels round America. That must have been terrifying for everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sally, what an informative and interesting article! I didn’t know you were a nutritionist, so you know whereof you speak. Most of my family lives in the pine forests of New Jersey, where we have horrendous pine pollen issues for the month of May. We are in that season now. We all get the sniffles, runny eyes, etc., and take care not to spend much time outside at this time of year. I’m grateful that, so far at least, none of us has a true food allergy, though. Thanks for this fascinating article!

    Liked by 1 person

    • My husband has the same allergy to pine Maura and our house in the mountains above Madrid was surrounded by them.. here back in Ireland thankfully not common in gardens and he has no problem.. but I do understand how debilitating it is. One thing that does help is to wear a cap or hat when outside. and if you cannot wash your hair every night then a good brush and a clean pillow case as that is where the pollen gathers. xxhugs


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