How Can You Tell The Difference Between A Food Allergy and Food Intolerance?

At some point in time, most people will suffer from food intolerance or a food allergy. Having an unpleasant reaction to something you have eaten could make you wonder if you have an allergy to a certain food. It is very common for someone to believe they have a food allergy or for a family to do a total dietary modification because a member is suffering from food allergies.

What Is A Food Allergy?

A body’s immune system has the job of identifying and destroying germs which can make you sick. Food allergies result when the immune system mistakenly targets a harmless food protein and sees it as an allergen. When a food protein is viewed as an allergen, the body’s immune system will attack it and start the inflammation process, flooding the body with histamine and other chemicals, which are responsible for causing the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

What Is Food Intolerance?

Food allergies and food intolerance are two entirely different conditions. Food intolerance is a digestive response, whereas a food allergy will trigger the inflammation process and set off different symptoms. Food intolerance will happen when a food irritates the digestive tract or when a person cannot digest or break down a certain food.

What Systems Are Affected By Food Allergies?

An allergic reaction will typically start with the skin, the respiratory tract, the gastrointestinal tract and if severe enough, the cardiovascular system can also be affected. Reactions to food can range from mild to severe, including a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Symptoms of a food allergy will typically start within a few minutes to several hours of eating the food.

What Are The Symptoms of a Food Allergy?

The symptoms of a food allergy may include some or all of the following:

• Itchy skin
• Rash or hives
• Shortness of breath
• Nausea
• Cramping and stomach pains
• Chest pain
• Swelling of the airways
• Diarrhea

What Are The Symptoms of Food Intolerance?

The most common symptoms of food intolerance can include any or all of the following things:

• Irritability
• Nervousness
• Nausea
• Stomach pain
• Gas, bloating and cramps
• Vomiting
• Heartburn
• Diarrhea
• Headache

How Can You Tell The Difference?

People with a food allergy will have a reaction every single time a certain food is eaten, even in the smallest amount. People with food intolerance issues, on the other hand, may not experience a reaction until a large amount of a certain food is consumed. A person’s doctor can help distinguish if a food allergy or food intolerance is present and establish a plan to help control the symptoms.


If a person believes they are suffering from a food allergy, it is important to seek medical advice. Keeping a food diary is a good way to keep track of the foods you eat and to document any reactions that might occur. Support and education are vital to people with food allergies or for parents of children with a food allergy because it imparts knowledge on the condition and helps them know what to do if a reaction were to happen.

Photo: Pexels

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