Food Allergy or Intolerance? How to Tell the Difference

Food Allergy or Intolerance? How to Tell the Difference

( – Everyone has eaten something that has disagreed with them — a spicy bowl of chili, a half-pound of chocolate or too much fried chicken. A little rest, a couple of antacids and you’re back to new. But that’s not the case with food allergies and intolerances. They have more intense or lingering symptoms and are often confused with each other. They are very different, however.

Breaking Down Food Intolerance

First, food intolerances are more common than food allergies. So, if you think a certain food, additive or ingredient is upsetting your gut, it’s likely you have an intolerance. Symptoms of intolerance include diarrhea, bloating, headache, nausea, fatigue, abdominal pain, runny nose and reflux. It should be noted that you can have flushing and/or a rash with food intolerance, which may cause you to think you have an allergy.

When it comes to food intolerance, people are intolerant to a lot of the same foods. Dairy (with lactose), for example, is intolerable to 65% of the world’s population. Gluten is another big one, as are sulfites and caffeine. While uncomfortable, food intolerance generally passes with time without the need for medical intervention.

Symptoms of Food Allergies

Symptoms associated with a food allergy, on the other hand, are much more intense. Symptoms generally appear within 30 minutes to 2 hours and can include anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition that impairs breathing and induces shock. Common allergy symptoms include tingling/itching of the mouth, hives, swelling (face, lips, tongue and throat), trouble breathing, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness and fainting.

The foods that cause the majority of allergic reactions include shellfish, nuts, fish, eggs, milk, wheat and soy. Foods covered in certain types of pollen can also induce an allergic reaction.

Managing Food Reaction Symptoms

If you have a food allergy, you MUST avoid that food — period. Even small amounts of it can cause a deadly reaction. If you’re not sure of everything you’re allergic to, you can ask your doctor to run allergy tests. The testing process could reveal allergens that might be new to you.

If you have a food intolerance, you can generally manage symptoms by eliminating or reducing the amount that you eat of the offending food. In some cases, you can enjoy very small amounts of the food without much trouble. However, you may have to experiment to see what your tolerance levels are. Some people find they need to give up the food altogether.

Mild to severe digestive issues that appear after you consume certain foods are most often associated with intolerance. If the whole immune system is involved, however, you may have a food allergy. Since allergic reactions are unpredictable and could be deadly, you should speak to your doctor if you think you have a food allergy. If symptoms occur suddenly and involve your tongue, throat or breathing, seek immediate emergency treatment.

~Here’s to Your Healthy Pursuits!

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