Food Allergies and Food intolerance Explained

There is a difference between food allergies and food intolerance. Their symptoms overlap but the treatment and diagnosis are completely different. It is important to understand this distinction since food allergies can be life-threatening.

What are food allergies?

Food allergies are an over-hyper-reaction of your body's immune system to certain types of food. Food allergies can cause various symptoms unrelated to the GI tract. The symptoms can be mild or severe. Food allergies develop after your body is exposed to a type of food that it believes is harmful. They can be genetic in nature and are passed on in families. The first time you have this type of food, your body forms antibodies(IgE).

The first time either has no reaction or a mild one. The 2nd time you eat this food, your body releases more IgE and histamine along with other substances. This chemical (Histamine) can have an effect on various organs of your body including your lungs and heart. If the histamine is released in the throat, you can have breathing difficulties. If it's released in the skin, you can have hives.

How common are allergies to food?

Around 5-10 % of adults, as well as children, have some sort of food allergy. Allergy testing can help them avoid serious symptoms and treat it early

What is the difference between food allergies and food intolerance?

  • Food intolerance is also known as food sensitivity. A food allergy involves your immune system. A food intolerance or sensitivity is usually restricted to your Gastrointestinal system.
  • Food intolerances do not cause a severe immune reaction(Anaphylaxis) in the majority of cases.
Food AllergyFood intoleranceOther comments
Involves the immune systemYesNoFood Allergy can cause various symptoms throughout the body
SeverityMild to Severe(even life threateningMild to moderateAnaphylaxis is a severe form
Time to symptomsusually quicker(under 60 minutes)Usually delayedCan be immediate in anaphylaxis
System involved ImmuneGastrointestinalIgE mediated reaction involving various parts of the body
Diagnostic MethodDifferent types of tests available:
Skin prick test
Allergy blood test for specific allergies(Specific IgE)
Oral Food Challenge
Food Elimination
Usually trial and error. Maintain a Food DiaryProcess of elimination
ExamplesPeanut AllergyLactose intolerance
Common foods causing food allergyEight food categories cause 90 percent of the allergic reactions to foods:
Tree nuts
Cow’s milk
Lactose, Sulfite containing foods, Sulfite can be sprayed onto fruits and vegetables so they should be thoroughly washed
Common symptomsRash
Cramping abdominal pain
Diarrhea\loose stools
Itchy skin
Shortness of breath
Chest pain
Swelling of the airways to the lungs
Stomach pain
Gas, or bloating
Irritability or nervousness
Difference between food allergies and food intolerance

Food allergies can be lethal if not diagnosed and treated on time. For more information about food allergies have a look at the Cleveland Clinic website here

To book a test for allergies click here

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