The terms “Food Allergy” and “Food Intolerance” are commonly confused, as a food intolerance can cause SOME of the same signs and symptoms as a food allergy.
So how are the two different?
When you have a food intolerance, you may be able to tolerate small amounts of the offending food without issues. For example, with lactose intolerance, small amounts of lactose can be tolerated, and intolerance symptoms may even be prevented if a lactase pill is taken- which is the missing enzyme for your body to digest lactose in that case. Food intolerances may be caused by many reasons including the absence of a digestive enzyme and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Food allergies are an overreaction of the immune system to a certain protein. These proteins – called allergens- may come from foods, house dust, animal hair pollens, or moulds. The word allergy means that the immune system has responded to a harmless substance as if it were toxic. Ninety percent of allergic reactions are caused by milk, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, sesame, fish, shellfish and soy. Life-threatening allergic reaction symptoms include the following within minutes of exposure to the allergen: difficult or noisy breathing, swelling of the tongue, swelling or tightness in the throat, difficulty talking, hoarse voice, wheeze, persistent cough, persistent dizziness or collapse.
To put it simply, a food intolerance is a chemical reaction, whereas a food allergy is an immune response which, in some cases, may be life-threatening! Make sure to seek immediate medical attention in such cases.
Blog by: Dima Al Wattar, Dietitian at FRH