Food sensitivities involve the body's digestive system, which can be triggered by dairy and gluten, among other culprits. The sensitivities can cause a tingling tongue after eating, as well as numbness in the extremities. However, food allergies, which are more serious, can also cause this effect.
Sensitivities to certain kinds of food can trigger physical reactions such as a tingling tongue after eating, tingly cheeks after eating, slight numbness and other responses.
Allergies Versus Sensitivities
Some of the symptoms of food sensitivities and food allergies are similar, but they are not the same ailment. In simple terms, a food sensitivity response is experienced in the digestive system, while a food allergy is the response by the body's immune system to an allergen.
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A food sensitivity occurs when you eat a food to which you are sensitive or intolerant. You may feel sick to your stomach or experience tingling and numbness in your mouth, face or other parts of your body. A true food allergy, however, can be life-threatening, depending on your body's reaction to that particular food.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, a food allergy can cause a serious or even life-threatening reaction by a person eating a microscopic amount, touching or inhaling the food. A food sensitivity, while uncomfortable, is not seriously life-threatening.
Read more: Your Body Is Tingling After Eating Sugar
Symptoms of Food Sensitivities
A warning sign of a food sensitivity can be tingling and numbness. Symptoms typically begin within a few hours of eating the food that you are intolerant to, but they can also be delayed up to 48 hours. The symptoms can last for hours or days and usually involve the digestive and respiratory systems, as well as the skin.
Food sensitivities are most often diagnosed through an elimination diet. Common food sensitivities include dairy, gluten, caffeine, salicylates (natural chemicals produced by plants as a defense against environmental stressors), fructose, sulfites, yeast, MSG food colorings, sugar alcohols, eggs and aspartame.
Read more: Elimination Diet: How To and Is It Right for You?
Food Sensitivities and Your Diet
You may be able to eat foods to which you are sensitive, but it depends on the food and the severity of your reaction. This means that despite the sensitivity, you may still be able to consume small amounts of the offending food and won't experience any common symptoms such as a tingling tongue or tingly cheeks after eating.
You may also be able to ward off a reaction to certain foods. Lactose intolerance is a prime example, according to the National Institutes of Health, with lactose-free milk available as well as lactase enzyme pills, such as Lactaid, that can be taken preventively to aid digestion and avoid a negative reaction before consuming dairy.
You should also be careful about cross-contact of ingredients.. Cross-contact occurs when cooking utensils, serving ware or cutting boards have not been properly cleaned between uses. For example, if a cutting board is used to cut a loaf of bread and then is used to prepare vegetables meant to go into a gluten-free dish.
Some remaining bread crumbs could make the entire vegetable dish unsuitable for someone with celiac disease. The best way to avoid cross-contact is to make sure all cooking implements have been thoroughly cleaned with hot, soapy water.
Read more: Can People Who are Lactose Intolerant Eat Chocolate?
Causes of Food Sensitivities
Causes of food sensitivities include the absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a food. Other causes include lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, sensitivity to food additives (such as sulfites used to preserve dried fruit, canned goods and wine), and Celiac disease, an ailment that affects about 1 percent of the U.S. population.
Stress or psychological factors may also play a role. According to Dr. James Li, a former chair of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology and a professor of medicine at the College of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic, just the thought of a certain food may trigger the body to react as though it has consumed it. This connection is not yet understood. If you have a reaction after eating a particular food, speak to your doctor, who can determine whether you have a food sensitivity or a food allergy.
- National Foundation for Celiac Awareness: "Celiac Disease Facts and Figures"
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Food Intolerance Versus Food Allergy"
- Mayo Clinic: "Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance: What's the Difference?"
- US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: "Restriction and Elimination Diets in ADHD Treatment"
- US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: "Fructose Malabsorption"
- National Institutes of Health: U.S. Library of Medicine: "Lactose Intolerance"
- Mayo Clinic: "Food Allergy"
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: "Food Allergies"
- Diet vs. Disease: "11 Warning Signs You Have A Sneaky Food Intolerance"
- Food Allergy Research and Education: "Avoiding Cross-Contact"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.