Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance: What’s the Difference?

Food Allergy Many people confuse food allergies for food intolerances, and vice versa. Although these conditions both involve a physical reaction to certain foods, each is distinct and has its own set of symptoms. Understanding the difference between a food allergy and an intolerance can help you find the care that you need for either condition. 

What is a Food Allergy?

A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system wrongly identifies a food as an invasive threat. As a result, the immune system tries to fight the food, leading to allergy symptoms.

Food allergies can range in severity. A mild case may only involve a few hives, while a severe food allergy may cause anaphylactic shock. Among the most common food allergies include peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, dairy, and shellfish. 

What is a Food Intolerance?

A food intolerance occurs when the digestive system struggles to process a specific food. This leads to discomfort and symptoms including bloating, stomach pain, gas, diarrhea, and headaches. Some of the most common food intolerances include lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, and fructose intolerance. 

Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerances

While food allergies involve the immune system, food intolerances involve the digestive system – this is the key difference between the two conditions. Additionally, while food allergies can, in severe cases, pose a risk of death, food intolerances aren’t as dangerous. Generally, food intolerances only cause discomfort, even at their most severe.

Another difference between these conditions is that the severity of food intolerance symptoms is influenced by how much of the food you consume. In contrast, with a food allergy, eating the food in very small amounts may still cause a serious allergic reaction. 

Food allergies and food intolerances are also treated differently. A food allergy may be treated with antihistamines, avoidance of the food that triggers the allergy, and an epinephrine pen in case of accidental exposure to the food. On the other hand, food intolerances are generally treated by limiting the food that causes the intolerance in your diet. 

If you’ve experienced symptoms of a food allergy, schedule an appointment at Kratz Allergy & asthma today to receive the treatment that you need.