What is the difference between food allergy and food intolerance?
Here we explain the main difference between food allergy and food intolerance. Reading through this page will help you to establish whether you have a food intolerance or a food allergy.
If you notice that when you eat certain foods your body has an adverse reaction, you could be suffering from some sort of food sensitivity. It is important to work out whether the adverse symptoms you are experiencing are due to a full-blown allergy to certain foods or just some level of sensitivity.
The reason it is important to find out which you have is that you need to treat the two conditions in different ways. The key to overcoming either any sensitivity to foods is determining exactly what the problem is. This page will help you to work out which you have.
What is a food allergy?
A true food allergy is a reaction to food that causes a severe reaction. In most cases, the adverse reaction is almost immediate and is marked.
The symptoms include the following:
In severe cases, the symptoms can become life threatening. Some people go into anaphylactic shock. The body literally becomes overwhelmed by the allergic reaction and begins to shut down. If this is not treated immediately the person can easily die.
Given how dangerous true hypersensitivity to foods can be, it is very important to recognise the signs and understand what foods you are allergic to. This knowledge allows you to completely avoid those foods, which is the best way to stay safe if you have a severe reaction to certain foods.
Even if the body does not go into full anaphylaxis the symptoms of a true food allergy can still be severe and very unpleasant. For example, it is not uncommon for the eyes to swell to the point where they cannot be opened until the swelling goes down. This is called Angioedema.
What is a food intolerance?
A food intolerance is very similar to a food allergy in that it manifests itself in a similar way. The symptoms of food intolerance or food sensitivity are virtually the same as they are in someone who is allergic to a certain food. However, the symptoms of food sensitivity tend to be much milder.
There could be digestive discomfort, mild diarrhoea, nasal congestion along with swelling and rashes as there is with a food allergy, but generally these symptoms will be relatively mild. In addition, they will typically clear up faster than they would in someone who is suffering from a full-blown allergy to a food product.
It is also unlikely that someone with an intolerance would end up suffering an anaphylactic reaction. In fact, if someone who thinks they are just intolerant of food finds that when they eat it they go into full anaphylaxis they are actually suffering from a true food allergy and not from just a low tolerance level for that food.
The importance of getting a proper diagnosis
Given that the symptoms of food allergies can be serious it is wise to get a proper diagnosis from a doctor. Doing so will help you to manage the issue effectively and protect your health.
Sometimes certain foods can be a symptom of a serious disease. For example, if you are intolerant of wheat it could be that you have coeliac or celiac disease. This is a progressive disease, which damages your small intestine and prevents it from absorbing nutrients properly, so it is a condition it is important to get diagnosed at an early stage if you can. For this reason, it is always wise to visit your doctor for a full diagnosis instead of trying to manage the situation on your own.
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