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Diagnosing the difference between an allergy and intolerance is difficult because the two conditions can cause similar symptoms 2. Citric acid is an additive in many processed foods and beverages that is used as natural preservative and to add a sour taste to the product, according to Science Daily. It’s an organic acid that is found primarily in citrus fruits. If you experience adverse reactions after consuming citric acid, you will also develop the same symptom after eating citrus fruits. Talk with your doctor for a proper diagnosis and to distinguish between an allergy and intolerance 2.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
A food allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to the proteins found in citric acid 1. When you consume a product containing citric acid, your body doesn’t recognize the proteins and begins to defend itself. Medline Plus states that the immune system begins to make specific antibodies called IgE, or immunoglobulin E, antibodies, which are intended to fight off the invading proteins 1. When IgE antibodies enter the blood stream, mast cells begin to generate histamine. Histamine is a chemical in the body that helps to ward off infections, but during an allergic reaction, high levels are released in soft tissue, causing inflammation.
- A food allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to the proteins found in citric acid 1.
- Histamine is a chemical in the body that helps to ward off infections, but during an allergic reaction, high levels are released in soft tissue, causing inflammation.
Intolerance to Sucrose
Citric acid intolerance differs from an allergy because it does not affect the immune system, according to MayoClinic.com 2. An intolerance toward citric acid is a malfunction of the digestive tract. The American College of Gastroenterology states that food intolerances are caused by an inability of the small intestines to properly digest certain sugars and proteins found in foods. This causes the sugars and proteins to remain in a complex state and cannot be absorbed by the gut. The digestive system becomes irritated, inflamed and swollen, which leads to common citric acid intolerance symptoms.
- Citric acid intolerance differs from an allergy because it does not affect the immune system, according to MayoClinic.com 2.
- The American College of Gastroenterology states that food intolerances are caused by an inability of the small intestines to properly digest certain sugars and proteins found in foods.
The most common symptoms between the two conditions are related to the gastrointestinal tract. If you are allergic to citric acid, you will develop other symptoms aside from the digestive system. Medline Plus states that common food-related allergy symptoms include:
- shortness of breath
- nasal congestion
- a runny nose
- skin reactions
- facial swelling 1
You need to call your doctor if you develop symptoms related to an allergy.
Stomach Pain and Difficulty Digesting Food
An allergist is the most qualified medical doctor to diagnose your condition. An allergist, accompanied by your primary physician will work together to perform various tests on your blood, skin and stool. Allergy tests are used to identify the presence of IgE antibodies in your body when exposed to citric acid. Other tests to diagnose intolerance look for complex sugars and proteins in your stools.
- An allergist is the most qualified medical doctor to diagnose your condition.
- An allergist, accompanied by your primary physician will work together to perform various tests on your blood, skin and stool.
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- Medline Plus: Food Allergy
- MayoClinic.com: Food Intolerance or Food Allergy
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- National Center for Biotechnology Information. Citric acid, CID=311. PubChem Database. 2020.
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- Sweis IE, Cressey BC. Potential role of the common food additive manufactured citric acid in eliciting significant inflammatory reactions contributing to serious disease states: A series of four case reports. Toxicol Rep. 2018;5:808-812. doi:10.1016/j.toxrep.2018.08.002
- Valenta R, Hochwallner H, Linhart B, Pahr S. Food allergies: the basics. Gastroenterology. 2015;148(6):1120-31.e4. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2015.02.006
- Citric acid and citrus allergy | AAAAI. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
- Genuis, Stephen. Sensitivity-related illness: The escalating pandemic of allergy, food intolerance and chemical sensitivity. Science of The Total Environment, Volume 408, Issue 24, 15 November 2010, Pages 6047-6061
Diane Marks started her writing career in 2010 and has been in health care administration for more than 30 years. She holds a registered nurse license from Citizens General Hospital School of Nursing, a Bachelor of Arts in health care education from California University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Science in health administration from the University of Pittsburgh.