A Good Look at the Difference a Food Allergy and a Food Intolerance

By Heather Legg

Apparently, there is a large number of people who report being allergic to certain foods when actually they are intolerant. But what really is the difference? Is it important to know the distinction between the two? Here are a few FAQ to help determine the differences.

What are the major differences between a food allergy and a food intolerance?
Because often many of the symptoms can be the same, it is hard sometimes to distinguish the two. However the big difference is that a food allergy involves the immune system. That is why a tiny trace of an allergic food can cause a very severe reaction and with a food intolerance, small amounts of the food can usually be tolerated.
Major symptoms of intolerance are bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhea or constipation, and other digestive symptoms. As any of these can occur with a food allergy as well, there are other symptoms that manifest with allergies and those are hives, swelling of lips, mouth and face and in extreme cases anaphylaxis. Dizziness, fainting and trouble breathing can also come from a food allergy.

Do you need to avoid the foods in both allergies and intolerances?
With food allergies, yes, the food needs to be avoided because a reaction is not always the same. Though the first one may just be hives, anaphylaxis or a more serious reaction can occur during another reaction. Sometimes a trace can even cause a severe reaction. With an intolerance, the food does not have to be fully avoided. For instance, for those with a milk intolerance, they may be able to have milk in cereal or coffee, but not a whole glass of milk or bowl of ice cream. Also food intolerance reactions can occur over time whereas a food allergy usually has a more immediate reaction.

Can either of these be outgrown?
Often food allergies can be outgrown; some types more often than others. However, intolerances are usually lifelong conditions and need to be managed accordingly.

Once the difference is understood, it is easier to manage the allergy or intolerance. If questions arise determining and understanding the difference, check with a doctor. They can help guide you and help develop a management plan.

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