We often use the word allergy when we really mean an intolerance or sensitivity to something. In fact, I often tell people that I’m allergic to coconut and they translate that to mean I don’t like coconut. Not true. Food allergies can be life-threatening so it’s important to know what you’re really dealing with.
|Food Allergy||Food Intolerance or Sensitivity|
|Reaction is a result of a specific, measurable immune system response.||Reaction usually caused by a food irritating the digestive system. No immune system involvement.|
|Reaction occurs with every exposure, even trace amounts.||May tolerate trace amounts. Reaction may only occur with larger or more prolonged exposures.|
|Can be life-threatening – anaphylaxis.||Not life-threatening.|
|Reaction usually comes on suddenly.||Reaction usually comes on gradually.|
|Skin or blood tests can detect specific antibodies to the food.||No test available. Usually requires trial and error to determine the offending food.|
|Shared symptoms: Nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting.|
|Rash, hives, or itch skin. Shortness of breath. Chest pain. If there is a sudden drop in blood pressure, trouble swallowing or breathing then this is a life-threatening emergency situation.||Gas, cramps, bloating. Heartburn. Headaches. Irritability or nervousness.|
A food allergy, then, is an immune system reaction that may or may not change over time. There is not really a cure for a food allergy so the best advice is strict avoidance.
A food intolerance or sensitivity, though, can be a result of an underlying digestive issue. Avoidance is advisable with some food intolerances as some can trigger chronic inflammation and immune system changes. Some food intolerances can be “cured” by solving the underlying digestive issue.
Photo Courtesy Dan4th Nicholas via Flickr
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2 thoughts on “Food Allergy or Intolerance?”
Thanks for sharing this! My youngest son and myself have a dairy intolerance. Although it is frustrating to deal with at times I feel grateful he is not allergic to dairy or any other food for that matter. I think the two can often be confused by people though.
Thanks, Lori. There is a lot of confusion regarding allergies and intolerances, but the differences are important for people to know!