In general, a food intolerance is much more common than a food allergy. It is easy for many people to confuse the two due to the same signs and symptoms.
Although symptoms of food allergies and intolerances may be similar, the trigger mechanism is very different and the treatment can be very different. Food allergies can be life-threatening and in many cases, it is advised to carry an EpiPen (adrenaline) with you if you have severe food allergies.
The most common reactive foods for both allergy and intolerance are also similar; wheat, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, milk, soy, and corn. There are several ways to test and it is advised to seek the help of a knowledgeable healthcare provider.
Food allergy is when there is an actual immune response, which can affect many organs in the body. The response is usually within 2 hours and can be life-threatening. These allergies are most likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Food allergy is a small amount of food can cause a reaction and it happens every time you consume the food. The immune system creates antibodies called IgE and other chemicals, including histamine.
Histamine can affect the respiratory system, GI tract, skin or cardiovascular system. Symptoms depend on where in the body the histamine is released.
Food allergy symptoms can include hives, rashes, wheezing, GI problems, eczema, headaches, insomnia, joint pain, puffy eyes, runny nose, asthma, and in severe cases anaphylaxis
Food intolerance is more common than a food allergy and does not involve an immune response.
The person doesn’t have enough of what is needed to digest the food, for example, lactose-intolerant people don’t have enough lactase (an enzyme), or their body might be sensitive to a particular chemical or additive in the food such as tartrazine (yellow dye #5).
Food intolerance reaction depends on the individual’s sensitivity threshold and how much of the problem food they eat. There is usually a delayed reaction, therefore difficult to determine the cause
Symptoms of food intolerance are abdominal pain, gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea, and non-GI symptoms such as headaches and joint pain. Symptoms may vary, as does the amount of food needed to cause the reaction.