Food allergies and food intolerances: what is the difference?

The confusion between food allergies and food intolerances is common because both conditions can involve adverse reactions to food. Yet they are fundamentally different in their mechanisms and effects on the body.
I hope this table will help you understand these differences.

AspectFood AllergyFood Intolerance
Immune system involvementInvolves the immune system response to a specific food protein.Does not involve the immune system; it’s a non-immune response.
SymptomsCan include hives, itching, swelling, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, and anaphylaxis.Typically leads to gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and sometimes non-digestive symptoms.
OnsetRapid onset, often within minutes to a few hours after consuming the allergenic food.Delayed onset, appearing hours to days after consuming the problematic food.
TriggersCommon allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, eggs, milk, soy, and wheat.Examples include lactose intolerance, gluten sensitivity, and histamine intolerance.
DiagnosisDiagnosed through skin prick tests, blood tests for specific antibodies (IgE), and sometimes oral food challenges.Diagnosis typically involves dietary elimination and reintroduction, symptom tracking, and specific tests for intolerances.
TreatmentStrict avoidance of the allergenic food(s).
Epinephrine may be needed for emergencies.
Avoidance or reduction of the problematic food or component, sometimes with the use of enzyme supplements or medications.

To minimise confusion, it’s essential for individuals experiencing adverse reactions to food to seek guidance from healthcare professionals who can conduct appropriate tests and provide a clear diagnosis, which is crucial for effective management. Understanding the key differences between food allergies and food intolerances is essential for making informed dietary choices and ensuring proper treatment and care.

You suspect a food allergy or intolerance and need advice?
Contact me!