It is easy to confuse allergies with intolerances. They both make us feel sick, lethargic, and downright miserable. Allergies and intolerances are your body’s reaction to particles in food, air, or through contact.
While both are a response by your immune system, they differ in many key ways: their time of onset, severity of physical symptoms, and immune system mechanism of action.
It is not unusual to hear about people reacting to certain food additives. We all have friends or colleagues who react to too much caffeine or salt. Others react to dyes and preservatives in foods.
These are not allergies per se, but could be deemed intolerances. In fact, it is difficult to ascertain who will get hyper from too much caffeine and who will drink twelve cups a day and sleep like a baby.
Apart from these rather obvious reactions, there are more subtle responses to additives. Symptoms are sometimes so subtle that they go unnoticed, and unless someone is really looking for the causes of a repetitive condition or symptoms, they may go unnoticed for decades.
An allergy occurs when your immune system recognizes an environmental or food molecule (allergen) as a dangerous intruder to get rid of. The dreaded symptoms are just the tools your body has to get rid of the intruder.
The allergy mechanism is quite complex and involves the immune system and a series of biochemical reactions. It ends up with histamine and other mediators being released in the bloodstream and causing symptoms. Allergens may result from our environment, food, medication, or personal care products like skin creams or suntan lotions.
The body’s response to an allergen results in “allergy symptoms” ranging from mild to severe, and sometimes deadly. If you are experiencing an allergic reaction you may feel tired, hazy, dizzy, or exhibit cold or flu-like symptoms.
Do you see the spring through a haze of tears, with a tissue box surgically attached to your hand and your nose emitting a persistent deluge of protesting gunge?
Most Canadians love summers, so it seems harsh that so many people should be doomed to react unfavourably at the first glint of the suns rays.
Then there are the unfortunates who react this way all year round, persistently snuffling and sneezing, sometimes without even knowing what it is they are reacting to. If you wake up every morning with an itchy nose, irritated eyes or catarrh blocking the back of your throat, you know where I’m coming from.