Food Allergy vs Food Intolerance: What's the Difference?
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You bite into a delicious cookie and 30 minutes later, your skin is covered in a raised and itchy rash. It’s then that you realize you accidentally ate nuts. What a lot of people don’t realize is that there are different ways you can negatively respond to food. Namely, there are food allergies and food intolerances — but these two terms are not interchangeable! Let’s talk about how they’re alike, how they’re different, what’s actually happening in the body, and some common symptoms that you might experience as an adverse response to something you ate.
Perhaps surprisingly, these are two different things. In a food allergy, the immune system itself reacts to something you ate or drank. The immune system mistakes a protein or some other ingredient as a threat, and it releases antibodies (which are also proteins) that are called immunoglobulin (IgE). These antibodies attempt to fight off the “invader” and keep you safe. Even a very small amount of that allergen can trigger a response.
Most of the time, the allergic reaction is harmless. Symptoms can manifest as hives, minor swelling of the face/lips/tongue, a rash, coughing/wheezing, dizziness, lightheadedness, and a tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth. Some people might experience more severe symptoms, like swollen airways. And in extreme conditions, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, and anaphylaxis can occur. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction to an allergen that requires an epinephrine treatment. Signs can include constricted airways, shock, a significant drop in blood pressure, and swelling of the throat and larynx, leading to suffocation.
With food intolerance, on the other hand, the individual’s body has a chemical reaction — not an immune reaction — to that allergen. It happens because your stomach can’t break down that food, so you might experience digestive issues — like gas, an upset stomach, or diarrhea. Typically, a small amount of food isn’t enough to trigger a response. Symptoms will usually occur a few hours after eating the food that caused them since it needs time to get through the digestive tract. While food intolerance can be annoying and uncomfortable, it isn’t life-threatening.
Food intolerances are also called food sensitivities.
Potential allergens vary from person to person, and there are countless. However, some are more common than others, including allergies to:
If you’re allergic to any of these ingredients, be sure you check the nutrition labels of everything you eat. Manufacturers are required to list any major allergens that the food contains.
How do you wind up with food allergies, anyway? Are you born with them, or do you develop them over time? Well, in actuality, babies are not born with food allergies. Instead, they occur over time when a person’s tolerance for a specific ingredient breaks down. Food allergies can also develop when an individual doesn’t build up a tolerance to a certain ingredient or food quickly enough. This is why some parents are careful to give their babies and children a variety of foods that include common allergens early on: so that they can build up a tolerance to it and their body won’t end up identifying it as a threatening invader.
What if you’re already experiencing a food allergy? Is there something you can do to get rid of it? It’s hard to say. Allergies to milk, soy, eggs, and wheat can go away over time. However, allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and crustacean shellfish are more commonly lifelong.
If you think you might be allergic to something you’re eating but you’re not sure what, food allergy and sensitivity testing is the only way to confirm it. For instance, eNational’s Basic Food Sensitivity test is a simple blood draw that checks for allergies to egg whites, cow’s milk, wheat, soybeans, peanuts, and codfish. Results are available in three to four business days. The Comprehensive Food Sensitivity test is more robust. It includes everything in the Basic Food Sensitivity test, in addition to testing for an allergy to shellfish, sesame seeds, and walnuts. Again, results are available in three to four business days. There’s also the Celiac Panel. Celiac disease is a condition wherein the body has an immune reaction to gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. This can lead to inflammation of the small intestine, along with trouble absorbing nutrients from the food you eat. This is a simple blood draw, with results available in three to six business days. If you already have symptoms or even a family history of food allergies/intolerances, order your test online today with eNational!
Note that a gluten allergy is not the same as a sensitivity to gluten. Your body can dislike gluten without actually being allergic to it. Always listen to your body! Even if you’re not allergic to gluten, if it makes you feel bad, avoid eating too much of it.
eNational has more than 4,000 locations all around the United States, making us accessible and convenient. You can easily order your test online — no need to see your doctor first! Find the testing center closest to you, arrive for your test, and simply wait for your results to be delivered to you via email.
Knowing the foods and ingredients that your body doesn’t like is important to your overall health and wellness. Ready to take the next step in discovering your allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances? Order your test online today with eNational.