The Difference Between Food Allergies and Food Intolerances

The Difference Between Food Allergies and Food Intolerances and How to Identify Them

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Food allergies and food intolerances are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Understanding the difference between these two conditions can help you identify which one you are experiencing and how to manage it.

Food Allergies

Food-Allergies

A food allergy is an immune system response to a specific food. When you have a food allergy, your body sees the food as a threat and produces an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE) to fight it. This response triggers the release of histamine and other chemicals in your body, which can cause a range of symptoms, from mild to severe.

Symptoms of a food allergy can occur within minutes to a few hours after eating the food. Common symptoms include:

  • Hives or rash
  • Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, and throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea

In severe cases, a food allergy can cause anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening reaction that requires immediate medical attention.

Food Intolerances

A food intolerance is a digestive system response to a specific food or food component. It occurs when your body is unable to properly digest or break down a certain food or substance in the food. Unlike food allergies, food intolerances do not involve the immune system.

Symptoms of a food intolerance can occur within hours to days after eating the food. Common symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Diarrhea

Some people may also experience non-digestive symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and skin rashes.

How to Identify Food Allergies and Food Intolerances

How to Identify Food Allergies and Food Intolerances

If you suspect that you have a food allergy or food intolerance, it is important to see a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis. Your healthcare provider may perform a physical exam, ask about your symptoms and medical history, and conduct allergy tests or other diagnostic tests.

Elimination diets can also help identify food intolerances. This involves removing certain foods from your diet for a period of time and then reintroducing them one at a time to see if symptoms occur.

If you have a food allergy, it is important to avoid the food altogether. If you have a food intolerance, you may be able to tolerate small amounts of the food or find ways to prepare it that make it easier to digest.

Understanding the difference between food allergies and food intolerances can help you identify which one you are experiencing and how to manage it. If you suspect that you have a food allergy or food intolerance, talk to your healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

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