Allergies are problematic and not every reaction is an allergy. According to the medical field allergies are a specific set of bodily chemical reactions to a specific set of antigens. Sensitivities are more generalized and usually less intensive or severe than allergies. If the response to an allergen causes a cascade of histamine reactions it is considered an allergy, a lack of this histamine reaction is indicative of an intolerance or sensitivity.
The best example of sensitivities would be many people’s reactions to cigarette smoke. Second hand smoke has been blamed for a number of illnesses. Many people react negatively to cigarette smoke, complaining of eye irritation and chest or lung irritation. Generally speaking these reactions are sensitivities and intolerances rather than true allergies. In another example a person might be sensitive to detergents or other chemicals. A small amount of exposure might even cause a rash but this may not be considered an allergy.
Interestingly doctors and patients can often disagree as to whether a reaction is an allergy, sensitivity or intolerance. Some old school allergists feel that if there isn’t an immediate and measurable response to an antigen then it isn’t an allergy. Others believe that only a specific set of reactions qualify as an allergic response. These doctors tend to think that symptoms such as headaches, overwhelming sleepiness, and behavioral problems are not allergies but rather sensitivities.
The most commonly reported intolerance is to lactose or milk sugar. Because the response to lactose intolerance is bloating, intestinal discomfort, cramping and diarrhea it is not considered to be an allergy. However, some people are actually allergic to milk and milk products, these people are more likely to have typical hay fever symptoms or even asthma. In addition to lactose the intolerance to wheat or wheat gluten is fairly common. It is believed that some people do not have the enzymes necessary in their guts to adequately digest certain grains. Because of this they have trouble digesting grains and glutens but not necessarily allergies. By using digestive enzymes to help with these problems many people have solved their problems. Others use Lactaid before eating milk products to aid in the digestion of lactose, still others have learned to avoid the offending items.
A situation that is becoming more common is multiple chemical sensitivities. The more toxic chemicals we use or are exposed to the more people are reacting in a variety of ways. Hairdressers and manicurists are experiencing a variety of symptoms including fatigue and muscle aches and pains that is being attributed to exposure daily to relatively toxic chemicals. Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are also considered to possibly be the body’s reaction to toxic chemical build up. Limiting exposure, supporting liver function and regular detoxification has been said to help
As you can see there are commonalities between allergies, sensitivities and intolerances. Even though they are not considered to be allergies, sensitivities can cause a variety of uncomfortable and debilitating symptoms and physical distress, even needing medical intervention.