Our skin is the largest organ of our body. It is the body’s first line of defense, protecting it from unwanted pathogens entering from the outside while holding everything together on the inside. Skin is waterproof and insulating, providing protection from temperature extremes, the sun, and harmful chemicals. Skin is also sensory, filled with thousands of nerves allowing the body to connect with beautiful sensations and warn when something is dangerous.
Along with nerves and vitamin D, the skin is also full of immune system cells to protect against bacteria, viruses, and other harmful substances. When something is “off,” whether from the outside or the inside, a reaction occurs that can lead to inflammation or, as it is commonly referred to, a red, itchy rash. Although a less severe form of reaction, food allergies or intolerances can manifest in this way and can be a first indication that a food allergy or intolerance exists.
Unfortunately, food allergy, food intolerance, and food sensitivity are used interchangeably, but it’s important to distinguish the differences among them. A food allergy is a medical condition that happens when your immune system immediately overreacts to the ingestion of a harmless food protein. The immune response is carried through the bloodstream to many different organ systems. The eight most common food allergens are milk, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish, and shellfish.
On the other hand, with food intolerances and food sensitivities, while the immune system is involved, food intolerances and food sensitivities most often affect the digestive tract, respiratory system, and skin; and responses may occur over a period of hours or days.
How Does the Body React to a Food Allergen?
An initial allergic response may appear mild, yet can progress quickly to a life-threatening condition. The onset of symptoms occurs immediately, as the body releases antibodies to fight the unwanted food in the system. An estimated 15 million Americans have a food allergy. Every year 200,000 people visit the hospital for treatment due to a severe allergic reaction to food. An allergic reaction can range in severity from itchy skin to full anaphylaxis, which can result in death.
How Does the Body React to a Food Intolerance or Food Sensitivity?
In contrast to the body’s reaction to a food allergen, the reaction to a food intolerance or food sensitivity generally affects the body’s digestive system. Symptoms occur over a period of hours or days and can include nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal issues.
What Are Some of the Skin’s Reactions to Food Allergies and Food Intolerances and Food Sensitivities?
Hives is a common skin rash resulting from a food allergy, particularly a reaction to peanuts, eggs, or shellfish. Although not always itchy, hives can be hot, uncomfortable, and unsightly. This reaction can appear anywhere on the body, but if hives are coupled with swelling and itchiness around the eyes or mouth or if swelling of the throat occurs, these symptoms are indicative of a severe reaction and immediate medical attention is required.
Eczema is another common skin rash that is a result of a food allergy. Eczema is a persistent itchy, dry, scaly rash. The foods that commonly trigger eczema are milk, soy, wheat, nuts, and eggs. These items don’t necessarily have to be ingested to cause a reaction, simply coming into contact with these foods can trigger a response.
Psoriasis is another skin condition that can result from a food intolerance or allergy. Psoriasis is an immune response that shows up as itchy, scaly lesions on the elbow, knees, and scalp. The most common food triggers for psoriasis flare-ups are alcohol, sugar, dairy, gluten, and tomatoes.
Lastly, acne can be a response to a food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity. Many times it is difficult to see a clear pattern between an acne flare-up and a food intolerance or sensitivity because the body’s response can take a while to manifest in the skin as acne. Furthermore, some allergens are so common in the everyday diet that it is often times difficult to trace back to a particular food.
Care of the skin begins on the inside. What we eat can show up on our face, or it can trigger an uncomfortable and unsightly rash. Although it is important to work with a doctor to verify the true nature of the irritation, make a mental note of what has been consumed as it may be the clue needed to solve the puzzle of the condition.