We are exposed to thousands of different molecules every day - as we breathe in air, in our water and food, and through skin contact. While we don't give most of these a second thought, occasionally some will cause our bodies to react.
Depending on the type of reaction, this may result in symptoms such as the following:
Itchy nose, mouth, or eyes
Runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing
Skin rashes e.g. eczema, hives
Digestive discomfort, gas, bloating, diarrhea
Burning lips, mouth, throat, or ear canal with certain foods
Treatment will depend on why your body is reacting to certain things. The first step is distinguishing between a true allergy, a sensitivity, and an intolerance (see below for details). You may have more than one of these reactions, however. By listening to your symptoms, I can usually get an idea of which reaction you're experiencing.
If it's unclear exactly which allergens or irritants are causing your symptoms, testing is available to clarify. This includes referral for skin scratch testing for environmental allergies, food sensitivity panels, and comprehensive digestive system testing.
In the case of true allergies and sensitivities, the immune system is reacting to molecules that are not actually harmful to the body. Therefore, treatment will involve calming and rebalancing the immune system. Some of these treatments overlap between allergies and sensitivities, while some are distinct for each type of reaction. I also offer sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) for environmental allergies. SLIT is a gentle allergy treatment that uses low doses of allergens to alleviate allergy symptoms over time.
For intolerances, treatment will be supportive of your natural enzymatic functions. Sometimes there's a genetic variation at play, but this doesn't mean that there's nothing we can do to help relieve your symptoms!
What's the difference between allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances?
Strictly speaking, the term "allergy" refers to the type of reaction you would often see in someone who is allergic to grass, bee stings, or peanuts. This type of allergy is an immune reaction involving IgE antibodies, which cause a relatively quick response after exposure to the allergen. Symptoms vary depending on how you have been exposed, but include itchy nose/eyes, sneezing, hives, and anaphylaxis (itching, rash, rapid swelling of face, tongue, throat). IgE reactions occur within hours, and often minutes, of contacting the allergen.
"Sensitivity" refers to an immune reaction involving IgG antibodies, and is a common reason for food reactions. IgG antibodies do not respond rapidly like IgE, but rather they build up over days, weeks, and months. These antibodies also tend to increase in proportion to how much you are exposed to the item to which you are sensitive. This means that it can be difficult to identify which foods are causing your symptoms. This is why IgG food sensitivity testing can be useful if you are experiencing chronic unexplained allergy-like symptoms, such as eczema, digestive discomfort or irregular bowel habits.
"Intolerance" refers to non-immune reactions. The most well-known example of this is lactose intolerance, in which the enzyme that digests lactose is lacking. Since these reactions do not involve the immune system, treatment may be quite different from allergies and sensitivities.