Some food allergy and food intolerance symptoms can be similar, including stomach cramps, diarrhea, headache and skin rash, therefore people often confuse the two. Although symptoms can be similar, there is a difference between food allergies and intolerances. Physical reactions to certain foods are not uncommon, but the majority are caused by a food intolerance instead of a food allergy. Food allergy reactions can be more intense and sometimes even life-threatening, which is why it is important to understand the differences of food allergy vs. food intolerance. 

What Is a Food Allergy?

Food allergy causes an inappropriate immune system reaction to a food that is perceived as a threat but is not pathogenic. The body acts toward the food as it would while fighting something that is actually not safe, like a disease-producing microorganism. Usually, when a person who is food allergic is exposed to the food that is offensive, the immune system develops specific antibodies common to the allergen, known as immunoglobulin E (IgE). This triggers the immune system to employ an aggressive, rapid response. According to the CDC, the most common food allergens are shellfish, eggs, soy, fish, cow’s milk, peanuts and wheat.

Food allergy can affect many parts of the body. Symptoms can appear immediately after ingesting the offending food, ranging from mild to severe, and they may include:

  • Cramps
  • Oral inflammation
  • Nausea
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Hives and/or itchy skin
  • Canker sores
  • Respiratory distress

In the most severe reaction, anaphylactic shock, can occur within one hour of contact. Symptoms of anaphylactic shock require immediate medical attention and can include:

  • Wheezing
  • Swelling of the tongue and throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Fainting

What Is a Food Intolerance?

Food intolerance is an adverse reaction to a food and is sometimes referred to as food sensitivity. Usually this reaction originates in the digestive or gastrointestinal system and is caused by the body’s inability to properly digest or absorb a certain food. Symptoms of food intolerance may begin around thirty minutes to an hour after consuming the food, but in some cases, symptoms may not appear for as long as 48 to 72 hours. Symptoms of food intolerance include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Headaches 

How Are Food Allergies and Food Intolerances Different?

There are a few differences between food allergy vs. food intolerance. 

Food allergies are associated with symptoms that can be more severe or even life threatening, while food intolerances are not usually as severe.

For people with food allergies, oftentimes the smallest amount of an offending food that has been ingested can cause a response – and that response typically occurs each time the food is consumed. Food allergic people are generally told to avoid the foods they are allergic to altogether. 

Food intolerances, on the other hand, are usually more related to the amount of offending food a person has consumed. For example, if a person is intolerant to dairy, having an occasional bite of pizza may not bring about symptoms but if he or she ate an entire slice or two, there might be discomfort. But some people who are intolerant to certain foods are more sensitive and can only tolerate smaller doses. 

If you believe you might be experiencing poor responses to certain foods or food allergies, California Recovery Center Labs offers testing kits you can use at home in addition to in-office testing for food sensitivity as well as food allergy testing, offering peace of mind so you better understand what is going on with your body. We make food sensitivity testing safe, easy and seamless. Reach out to us today to schedule an appointment or order a kit for drive-thru pickup or at-home delivery.

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