The Difference Between Food Allergy and Food Intolerance

Food Allergy and Food Intolerance

Since food brings comfort and enjoyment in addition to essential nutrients and energy, it is a fundamental necessity for survival. Others, however, may experience discomfort or even severe responses to certain foods, making mealtimes stressful rather than enjoyable. This unfortunate reality affects those who have dietary allergies or intolerances. These illnesses hold distinctive roles in the world of medicine despite being commonly misunderstood and misread. To clear the mist, let’s examine their differences.

Immunological reaction

Probably the biggest difference between food allergy and intolerance lies in the immune response. When individuals with food allergies eat certain foods, such as eggs, peanuts, or shellfish, their immune systems mistake them for potentially dangerous substances. When antibodies are created against specific food proteins, histamine is released along with other substances, which results in the symptoms of an allergic reaction. From mild symptoms (skin rashes, itching, or swelling) to severe and potentially fatal anaphylaxis, this immunological response can cause a ton of issues. 

Food intolerances impact the digestive system rather than the immune system. Food intolerances often develop when the digestive system is unable to create enough enzymes to properly digest or absorb a particular food. 

First symptoms

The physical signs of an allergic response could surface instantly or within a couple of hours after consuming a potential allergen. An individual may realize they are experiencing such a response if they suddenly observe indications like skin rashes, puffiness, difficulty breathing, or an upset stomach.

Contrarily, the results of a food intolerance reaction might not become evident immediately. The manifestations of this intolerance could take several hours, days, or even extend to weeks after consumption of the food causing discomfort. This makes it challenging to figure out the origin of these issues and their respective triggers. The latency of these symptoms might lead individuals with such food intolerances to persist in eating the offending items, oblivious to the ensuing effects on their health.

Magnitude of symptoms 

Food allergy symptoms can be fatal or highly serious. A wide range of symptoms, including breathing difficulties brought on by a swollen throat, a fast drop in blood pressure, a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, or even unconsciousness, are often experienced by those with food allergies. To effectively manage the disease, an allergy specialist is required in many cases. These professionals create plans of action for handling severe allergic responses, supply necessary medications, and provide professional guidance. 

Even though food intolerance symptoms might be excruciatingly uncomfortable, they are often not lethal. They primarily induce symptoms related to the digestive system, such as bloating, gas, stomach pain, and diarrhea. 

Quantity of food 

Another key difference between allergies and food intolerances is the quantity of food needed to provoke a response. Even the slightest intake of an allergenic food could potentially set off a food allergy.

Food sensitivities usually have a correlation with the amount of troubling food you eat. Certain individuals with food sensitivities can tolerate small portions of the troubling ingredient without enduring any consequences. Nevertheless, if this food is consumed regularly or in large quantities, symptoms might emerge. Hence, recognizing the relationship between dietary intake and symptoms is crucial for the proper handling of food intolerance.

Diagnostic tests 

Food intolerances and allergies are identified using quite different diagnostic techniques. In order to test for allergies, tiny amounts of potential allergens are injected into the body through extremely small skin pricks. If the person is allergic to one of these foods, they will experience a localized allergic reaction, such as a little rash that resembles hives. Blood testing is another widely used diagnostic technique to look for antibodies that are specific to various foods. In rare cases, an oral food test can be used, in which the patient consumes a specific quantity of the allergen while being closely observed by a medical professional. By the way, this is all painless and only slightly uncomfortable. 

Food intolerances are more challenging to diagnose because no accurate, specialized testing is available. Some medical professionals may use breath testing to diagnose conditions like lactose intolerance or intolerance to fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPs). The diagnosis typically calls for a thorough medical history, the use of elimination diets, and food diaries.

Knowing their distinctive characteristics and impacts helps those who suffer from them make daily eating selections and raises public awareness. It encourages a more inclusive and kind society where the variability in how our bodies respond to food is acknowledged, supported, and welcomed. Therefore, keep in mind that people who talk about having food allergies or intolerances are not just being “picky” or spoiled about what they enjoy or dislike. Remember that people with allergies or intolerances have real conditions that have a significant influence on their lives and should be taken seriously, or bad things can happen.

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Article Author Details

Eve Anderson