Can You Pass on a Food Intolerance or Food Allergy to Your Child?

Food intolerances and allergies are related, but they are also very different. Take a look at the similarities and differences between food intolerances and food allergies, and then decide whether or not your offspring need to be wary.

Food intolerance: A food intolerance occurs when the gut has trouble digesting a certain food. Gas, pain and diarrhea are all common symptoms of food intolerance. The most common food intolerance is lactose intolerance, which occurs when the digestive system lacks the enzyme needed to digest the sugar in dairy. Sucrose Intolerance, also called Genetic Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (GSID), is another food intolerance where the enzyme needed for proper metabolism of sucrose (sugar) and starch (i.e., grains and rice), is not produced or the enzyme produced is either partially functional or non-functional in the small intestine. GSID is a lifelong disorder that cannot be outgrown. In adults who have “learned to live with the condition,” GSID symptoms may be less severe and appear as chronic diarrhea, unexplained abdominal pain, bloating, frequent bowel movements, gassiness and abdominal distention. In children, symptoms to look out for include abdominal swelling (distention), gassiness, colic, irritability, excoriated buttocks (abrasions and irritations), vomiting, diaper rash, failure to thrive (having a low height or weight) and diarrhea. These symptoms are often misdiagnosed as milk protein intolerance, food allergies and chronic, nonspecific diarrhea.

The key to understanding the difference between food intolerance and food allergy is that they affect different systems in the body. Food intolerance affects the digestive system, while a food allergy affects the immune system.

Food allergy: A food allergy occurs when food is introduced to the body, and the body reacts as though the food is an invader and tries to stop it creating histamines and severe symptoms, such as swelling of the tongue and throat, difficulty breathing, hives, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and even anaphylaxis, a major drop in blood pressure. In very small children and infants, food allergies can be hard to spot but may appear as eczema, a skin rash. The most common food allergies include peanuts, eggs, milk, shellfish, wheat, soy, fish and tree nuts (almonds and walnuts). Many children may outgrow allergies to eggs and dairy, but typically a peanut allergy is lifelong and may worsen with continued exposure. Follow guidelines for introducing new foods to babies, especially if allergies run in the family or if they exhibit other signs, such as asthma or eczema.

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