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When Shouldn't You Disclose an Allergy?

Food intolerance and food allergies are not the same. You need to know the difference in order to know when to disclose an allergy.

These days, it seems like everyone and their dog has a food allergy. Whether it’s gluten, dairy, wheat, sulfites, or soy products, self-diagnosed food allergies are the latest fad diet.

But according to members of the National Academy of Sciences, there’s scant evidence to suggest that food allergies are actually on the rise.

Dr. Virginia Stallings, a nutrition pediatrician from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, points to common misconceptions about allergies. Not only are food allergies complicated to diagnose, but individuals are more likely to self-diagnose based on symptoms that could be a sign of more common conditions, such as food sensitivities or food intolerance.

We all know people who like to complain about all the things they “can’t eat.” But chances are, their symptoms are caused by a food intolerance — not an allergy.

Symptoms of food intolerance or sensitivity are typically milder than those of allergies. Often, they’re limited to digestive issues. People who suffer from lactose intolerance, for example, may even be able to eat small amounts of dairy without experiencing symptoms.

On the other hand, true food allergies trigger a wide-ranging immune system response, affecting multiple organs. They’re also more likely to be severe, and in some cases, even life-threatening.

Should you always disclose an allergy? Read on to find out.

Case #1: You Have a Severe Food Allergy … Always Disclose

If you have been diagnosed with a severe food allergy, your close and extended family members, friends, classmates, colleagues, and acquaintances need to be made aware of it. When out to eat, you should always inform servers of your allergy, even if you don’t think there’s a chance that your meal will have come into contact with or contain the item you’re allergic to.

Disclosing your allergy can:

  • Reduce your risk of a reaction
  • Help those around you to recognize a reaction when it occurs
  • Help those around you offer assistance and/or call for help in the event of an emergency

Case #2: You Have a Mild Food Allergy … Always Disclose

If you have been diagnosed with a mild food allergy, you should still try to avoid the food, which means you need to disclose it.

Though it is a misconception that your allergic reaction will get worse each time you are exposed to the food, the truth is that there’s no predicting how you’ll react. Over time, mild reactions become more or less severe, or they can stay the same. Your doctor can help you to understand who to tell about your allergy and how to stay prepared for an emergency.

Case #3: You Don’t Really Have A Food Allergy … So Don’t Disclose One

Allergies are potentially life-threatening conditions — if you don’t have one, don’t claim one and ruin it for people who actually need their allergies to be taken seriously by food industry professionals.

You have the right to avoid eating foods that produce unpleasant physical symptoms. But before you self-diagnose a food allergy or even a food sensitivity, see a doctor about your symptoms.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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