It is very common for someone that has a reaction to food to say they have a food allergy. Often what the person has is a food intolerance and not an actual food allergy. Until I started researching food allergies I didn’t recognize the difference either. So how can you tell whether you have a food allergy or a food intolerance? Well let’s break down an allergy vs. intolerance.
A food allergy and a food intolerance can share some reactions, but there are some major differences. If it’s a true food allergy then likely you will see a reaction almost as soon as the food has been eaten, or even just placed in the mouth. This is because the food causes an immune reaction in the body and the body will go to work to attack it as soon as it is detected. This reaction will cause an attack on different organs which can cause the allergy to be life threatening although not all are. It takes the body time to recognize the food if it’s a food intolerance though, so the symptoms come on more gradually. Since an intolerance doesn’t cause an immune response it will never be life threatening.
Only a very tiny amount of food is needed to cause an immediate and severe reaction if you have a food allergy, and it happens every time the food is eaten. This is why it is recommended that people allergic to certain foods should avoid them completely. On the other hand someone with a food intolerance can often eat a small amount of the offending food and not see a response at all. This why some people can test a small amount of food and think that they no longer have an intolerance, only to eat a large amount of the food later (thinking they’re fine) and end up with a big reaction. When you have a food intolerance there may also be steps that can be taken(such as a Lactaid pill for those that are lactose intolerant) to help prevent reactions to the food that is ingested. Someone with an intolerance likely will want to avoid the foods that bother them, but they don’t have to.
Food allergies and intolerances do have a few shared symptoms. They can both cause nausea, stomach pains, diarrhea, and vomiting. The also have a lot of different symptoms though. A food allergy can affect your entire body due to the immune system response. A food allergy can cause symptoms such as hives, swelling, shortness of breath, chest pain, and a sudden drop in blood pressure. These symptoms can become life threatening. The symptoms for a food intolerance on the other hand include gas, cramps, bloating, heartburn, headaches, irritability, and nervousness.
I hope this clears up the confusion on a food allergy vs. intolerance. Having either one is a pain, but it is importance to recognize the differences.