Allergy versus Intolerance

By Heather Legg

I was talking to a friend of mine today and she began to tell me of her son’s pork allergy.  Every time he eats pork, he winds up with stomach troubles within 24 hours. The more he eats, the worse he feels. And this encompasses all kinds of pork, including pepperoni and ham, not just pork chops or ribs.

Of course, this sounds like more of an intolerance than an allergy, but really what is the difference? He is able to eat it, but it makes him feel bad. No, it’s not life threatening, but it makes him sick. Should he stay away completely, or only have it occasionally and in moderation? How do you treat an intolerance versus an allergy?

For starters, an allergy is more severe. For instance, if you’re “lactose intolerant,” then by definition you don’t have a milk allergy, but rather an intolerance. Many people who believe they suffer from a food allergy instead have an intolerance, which still can cause symptoms that can bothersome and uncomfortable like an allergy, but not as severe.

According to a definition on webmd,

“food intolerance is a digestive system response rather than an immune system response. It occurs when something in a food irritates a person’s digestive system or when a person is unable to properly digest or breakdown, the food. Intolerance to lactose, which is found in milk and other dairy products, is the most common food intolerance.”

Symptoms of food intolerance are usually limited to the digestive tract and include gas and bloating, nausea and/or vomiting, stomach pain, cramping, heartburn, diarrhea and sometimes headaches.

On the other hand, an allergy, which can range from mild to severe has symptoms such as rash or hives, nausea, vomiting, stomach ache, shortness of breath, swelling of face, mouth or airways to the lungs, and worse case scenario, anaphylaxis. This is a systemic reaction instead of one just affecting the digestive tract.

Food allergies are much more common and, like with my friend’s son, the reaction is usually predictable. An allergy is not. Whereas one time can bring on one type of reaction, like maybe just hives, the next time could be much worse, or not at all. With an intolerance, usually the more the food, the greater the effects. My friend said she does allow small amounts of pork now, just not much. He can have pepperoni pizza, but not a pork hot dog, for instance. An allergy, however, can be brought on by the slightest amount, so people with allergies don’t even use the same utensils that may have touched an allergen.

Sure an intolerance is much easier to manage than an allergy. But for those with an intolerance, it can still cause discomfort and watching ingredients and living with a modified diet.

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