Food for Thought: Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance


Food IntolerancePeople often say that they can’t eat certain things because they are allergic to them, but in many cases, what they mean is that they have an intolerance to it. However, it is very important to understand the differences between a food allergy and a food intolerance, because that knowledge can literally save your, or someone else’s, life.

According to WebMD, the two conditions share the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

But that is where the similarities end.

Now let’s take a look at the differences.

This chart from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital breaks them down clearly:

Food Intolerance

What causes food intolerance?

A food intolerance occurs when there is a problem in properly breaking down food in the digestive system. The most common intolerance is to lactose, and there are a few conditions that can provoke an intolerance reaction. Mayo Clinic cites the following triggers:

  • Absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a food
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Food poisoning
  • Sensitivity to food additives
  • Recurring stress or psychological factors
  • Celiac disease

What causes food allergies?

A food allergy takes place in the immune system and, like seasonal allergies, occurs when your body determines something is harmful and produces antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) explains, “These antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals, causing an allergic reaction. Each type of IgE has a specific ‘radar’ for each type of allergen.”

According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE):

  • Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies and the number of sufferers is on the rise for no known reason.
  • This potentially deadly disease affects 1 in every 13 children (under 18 years of age) in the U.S.
  • The economic cost of children’s food allergies is nearly $25 billion per year.

The following is a list of the most common allergens, with links to their descriptions on the FARE website. The site also discusses some of the less common, but equally as dangerous, food allergy triggers.

If you have a reaction, whether severe or mild, it is extremely important that you see a doctor in order to find out if you have an intolerance or an allergy and what has caused it. Through patient-centered care, our expert physicians at CT Sinus Center will use up-to-date diagnostic knowledge and tools to find out exactly what is triggering your reaction. And once that is determined, they will set up an effective, individualized treatment plan to keep you safe and feeling great.

To make an appointment at one of our four conveniently-located offices, call 860-BALLOON today. Food is one of the great pleasures of life; you deserve to enjoy it without anxiety.

For more information on food allergies, download the National Institution of Allergies and Infectious Diseases helpful guide for families.   

For more information on all things sinus and allergies, visit the CT Sinus website and blog.

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