IBS and Food Allergies: Is There an Association?

IBS and Food Allergies

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) know it can be a debilitating disease. IBS is a chronic disorder of the bowels characterized by symptoms of chronic abdominal pains, changes in stool frequency and consistency, and relief of abdominal pain after a bowel movement. This disease affects approximately 15% of the population, and while most people have no known cause of their symptoms, up to 30% of people report IBS symptoms occurring after an acute infection (such as the “stomach flu” or “food poisoning”).

Is There an Association Between IBS and Allergies?

Possibly. Many people with IBS are adamant that certain foods trigger their symptoms. This certainly is reasonable - we know that there are associations between food allergies and gastrointestinal disorders, such as with the oral allergy syndrome and eosinophilic esophagitis.

There likely is an association between IBS and allergies, especially with pollen and food allergies. People with IBS have been found to have more mast cells within their intestines, which may be acting to cause IBS symptoms when exposed to certain food and pollen allergens.

A recent study sought to identify an association between allergic diseases and IBS. These researchers found that people with seasonal allergic rhinitis and atopic dermatitis ​were much more likely to have IBS symptoms compared to people without these allergic diseases. Conversely, people with IBS were more likely to have allergic rhinitis and atopic dermatitis when compared to those people without IBS.

Why Is There an Association Between IBS and Allergies?

It is not completely clear, but researchers have suggested that mast cells within the intestines cause IBS symptoms when activated by allergens, such as certain foods and pollens. Some people with IBS have improvement of their symptoms with avoidance of their allergic food triggers, while others have symptom relief with the use of antihistamines and cromolyn.

An allergist can perform allergy testing to food and pollen allergens to determine if your IBS might be caused by allergies.


Tobin MC, Moparty B, Farhadi A, DeMeo MT, Bansal PJ, Keshavarzian A. Atopic Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Novel Subgroup of Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Allergic Manifestations. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2008;100:49–53.

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