Food allergy v food intolerance

Food Safety – What’s The Difference Between An Allergy And Intolerance?


In this article we answer the popular question “what is the difference between food allergy and food intolerance.”  Food allergies and food intolerances can have similar symptoms, but are very different conditions.

A food allergy not only makes someone feel unwell, but can also have a life threatening reaction, called anaphylaxis.

Let’s look into this a little deeper.

Food Intolerance v Food Allergy - what's the difference?

What is a Food Intolerance?

A food intolerance is difficulty digesting certain foods and having an unpleasant physical reaction to them.

A reaction to a food intolerance takes place in the digestive system. It occurs when you are unable to properly breakdown food.  The reason for the reaction could be due to enzyme deficiencies, sensitivity to food additives or a reaction to a naturally occurring chemical.

In our Allergen Awareness Courses, we talk about the differences between Food Intolerance and Food Allergies.

What Are The Symptoms of a Food Intolerance?

A food intolerance can cause symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Cramps
  • Bloating
  • Wind
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Headaches

The symptoms usually occur within a few hours of eating the food.

How Do You Diagnose a Food Intolerance?

It can be difficult to diagnose a food intolerance as the symptoms are typical of many other conditions.

The best way is to monitor the symptoms and the foods you eat. See what happens when you cut out the suspected food for a while, and then reintroduce it into your diet.  Try keeping a diary of the foods you eat and any symptoms that occur.

Types of Food Intolerances

Some examples of types of food intolerances include:-

  • Gluten
  • Wheat
  • Lactose
  • Caffeine
  • Additives

Food intolerances should be taken seriously. Although they are not life threatening, the long term effects can lead to you becoming very ill.

What is a Food Allergy?

A food allergy is a reaction by the immune system to a food protein that triggers an allergic reaction. The immune system controls how the body defends itself.  For example, if you have an allergy to milk, the immune system identifies the milk as an invader or allergen.  The immune system overreacts by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E.  These antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals, causing an allergic reaction.

What Are The Symptoms of a Food Allergy?

A food allergy can cause symptoms such as:

  • Breathing Problems
  • Throat Tightness
  • Coughing
  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Drop in Blood Pressure
  • Anaphylaxis

These symptoms may happen within between minutes and hours of an allergen being encountered. Unlike a food intolerance, eating a microscopic amount of the food, or sometimes even touching or inhaling it, could lead to anaphylaxis.  So anyone with a food allergy must avoid the problem food entirely.

What is Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life threatening reaction to a trigger such as an allergy. It usually develops suddenly and then gets worse very quickly. Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include difficulty breathing, dizziness or loss of consciousness.  Without immediate treatment, such as an injection or epinephrine (adrenalin) and expert care, anaphylaxis can be fatal.

Types of Food Allergies

Some examples of types of common food allergies include:-

  • Fish and shellfish
  • Peanuts and other Nuts
  • Milk

Training Available

Envesca offers two levels of Allergen Awareness courses, both of which offer advice and guidance on the differences between food intolerances and food allergens.

Highfield Level 2 Award in Food Allergen Awareness
Highfield Level 3 Award in Allergen Management

If you would like to discuss the various options with our friendly team just give us a call on 01452 898180

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