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Food hypersensitivity explained

Food allergy, food intolerance and coeliac disease are the most common forms of food hypersensitivity.

Food hypersensitivity is when someone has a bad reaction to a food that is otherwise safe for everyone else to eat. Food hypersensitivity is different to food poisoning where food is contaminated with harmful bacteria or toxins that could make anyone sick.

For example, undercooked chicken can be a risk to anyone who eats it, while peanuts, which are a nutritious source of protein for many people, are very dangerous for someone with a peanut allergy.

What is the difference between a food allergy, food intolerance and coeliac disease?

A food allergy is an immune system reaction to a food. For example, some people are allergic to crustaceans and will react to proteins found in crab meat, prawns, shrimp and lobster.

A food intolerance is a difficulty in digesting certain foods. For example, some people have an intolerance to lactose which is a sugar found in milk and milk products.

Coeliac disease is an immune system reaction to gluten which is protein naturally found in some grains including wheat, barley, and rye. Coeliac is different to an allergy and an intolerance.

What is an allergen?

An allergen is the food a person is allergic or intolerant to.

How do you know if you have a food allergy or food intolerance?

If you think you may be allergic or intolerant to a food, you should get a diagnosis from your doctor or a registered dietitian.

Don’t diagnose yourself

Self-diagnosis is very risky because many symptoms caused by food hypersensitivity are common to other illnesses, so you may misdiagnose what is causing the issue. You also risk cutting out food groups that are safe and nutritious.

Is there a cure for food allergy, food intolerance or coeliac disease?

No, there is no cure. People manage their conditions by strictly avoiding the allergens that make them sick and treating the symptoms of a reaction.

Where can I find support for food hypersensitivities?

Support for people with Coeliac disease in Ireland can be obtained from The Coeliac Society of Ireland and for people in Northern Ireland from Gluten-Free Ireland and Coeliac UK.

Unfortunately, there are no advocacy groups for those suffering from food allergy or food intolerance on the island of Ireland. If you have a food allergy in Ireland, you should sign up to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) allergen alerts as part of your management plan. If you live in the UK, you can subscribe to the Food Standards Agency’s ‘News and alerts’ resource which includes alerts concerning food allergens.

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