Allergy, Intolerance, or Acid Reflux?

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Finding the root cause of painful digestive flares can be very frustrating, especially for parents trying to figure out why their child doesn't feel well.
The first thing we often look at is our child's diet.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of confusion as to what foods to eliminate or avoid.
In this post, we will clear up some of the confusion between food allergies, food intolerance and acid reflux triggers.

Food Allergies

A food allergy occurs when the body's immune system launches an abnormal attack against the offending food item.
Some of the most common allergic foods are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.
These "top eight" foods account for 90 percent of all allergic reactions according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.

Most symptoms of food allergies occur within a few minutes to an hour of eating the food.
Symptoms can include tingling in the mouth, swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, eczema, hives and asthma attacks.
Severe food allergies can progress into a rapid drop in blood pressure or anaphylaxis.
If your child has symptoms of food allergies after consuming these foods, contact your physician. If symptoms are severe, you should head to the hospital.
Remove the allergic food item from the diet until you get the "all clear" from a specialist.

Food Intolerances

Food intolerances often share similar GI symptoms to food allergies, but they do not involve an immune system response to the food item.
One of the most common examples of food intolerance is lactose intolerance.
In lactose intolerance, a person is unable to digest dairy because they are missing the enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest lactose, a sugar found in dairy products.
In infants, a form of food intolerance called milk soy protein intolerance (MSPI) can cause similar symptoms to acid reflux, but responds well to removing dairy and soy from the infant's diet.

Check out my blog, Acid Reflux and MSPI,
for more information on this topic.

Acid Reflux Trigger Foods

Acid reflux triggers are foods that either increase the acid in the stomach by their natural acid content or reduce the pressure in the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which allows more acid into the esophagus.
Some of the main triggers for acid reflux are tomato or tomato-based products, citrus fruits and juices, high-fat foods, spicy foods, chocolate, peppermint and alcohol.
This is not an exhaustive list and not all of these foods will affect everyone with acid reflux.
A food journal can be a great tool to help you figure out which foods are your main triggers.

You may be wondering why it is so important to make these distinctions between food allergy, food intolerance and acid reflux.
The main reason to obtain an accurate diagnosis is so that you can get the proper treatment.
Allergies, intolerances and acid reflux are all treated in different ways, even though their symptoms can frequently overlap.

Oftentimes, a person may have one or more of these issues contributing to their pain,
and each must be treated properly to relieve the pain.
If you think that an allergy or intolerance is contributing to your acid reflux symptoms or your child's symptoms, make an appointment to discuss proper diagnosis and treatment with a physician.

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.