Occasionally people are unable to distinguish food intolerance from food allergies and are confused by the health professionals, patients, and the public. According to Dr. Virginia Stallings, a board-certified nutrition pediatrician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “there are a lot of misconceptions about what a food allergy is.” Having reactions to certain foods is not uncommon which are mainly caused by food intolerance rather than food allergy.

Food Intolerance 

Occasionally people are unable to distinguish food intolerance from food allergies and are confused by the health professionals, patients and the public.

Food intolerance reactions do not involve the immune system and are either pathophysiology explained or there are simply no explanations as to why they occur. When you have an intolerance to food you might still be able to eat a small portion of it without any issues. Intolerance symptoms to a specific food item or ingredient might be preventable. A good example would be lactose intolerance. It possible to prevent it by simply drinking lactose-free milk or taking lactase enzyme pills for better digestion.

Food intolerance is not life-threatening and for the most part it presents gradually. It may only happen when there is a high amount of consumption or if consumed often. Intolerance symptoms may be gas, cramps, bloating, heartburn, headaches, irritability or nervousness.

Food Allergy

Food allergy is a reaction caused by the immune system that affects several organs in the body. An allergic food reaction is a lot more serious than food intolerance with symptoms that can be mild to life-threatening. When the reaction is life-threatening an epinephrine shot might need to be carried at all times in case of an emergency. The only way to prevent an allergic reaction is by simply not having that food item or ingredient in your meals.

Food allergy, in most cases, comes on suddenly. Even a small amount of food may trigger it and will happen every time that specific food item is consumed. Allergy symptoms are rash, hives, itchy skin, shortness of breath, chest pain, drop in blood pressure and trouble swallowing which if considered life-threatening.

It is important to consult with a provider to confirm whether it’s a food intolerance or food allergy. It might be helpful to keep a food diary to keep track of what you eat and the symptoms. A provider will perform the appropriate test to help rule out the food items or ingredients that are causing the reactions.

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