Allergy vs. Intolerance: Understanding the Differences

Allergy vs. Intolerance: Understanding the Differences

If you feel like something is going on with your diet, you may conclude that you have a food intolerance or a food allergy. But which do you have? And how do you know the difference between them and what they mean for your lifestyle and diet? Below, we’ll cover basic details on allergy vs. intolerance and the importance of allergy and intolerance testing for proper, up-to-date information on your body’s needs.

Allergy vs. Intolerance

Let’s start with the basics of these two conditions. An allergy is when the body’s immune system causes a reaction to a food item. The immune system misidentifies a normal food as a threat and starts an allergic reaction to neutralise it.

What Is A Food Intolerance?

A food allergy is triggered due to a specific protein antigen in that food. An allergy is personalised and appears to “random” foods. For example, Person A can eat shellfish, and it’s their favourite food. Person B can have a life-threatening reaction to a simple whiff of shellfish. For Person B, the protein in the shellfish is a severe allergen.

A food intolerance is when your digestive tract is not equipped with the proper digestive enzymes to digest a specific ingredient in your food. The food arrives in the stomach, and the digestive system struggles to process and break it down like “other” food. An intolerance is triggered due to malabsorption or deficiency.

To summarise: a food intolerance is a nuisance, whereas a food allergy is a threat (from your body’s point of view). That’s not to say that a food intolerance should be ignored, of course.

As we’ll discuss below, the symptoms of a food intolerance and food allergy can feel similar, so understanding which it is can help you know what to eliminate from your diet for safety.

The symptoms to watch out for

Allergies are going to fall into three categories as far as allergy symptoms. You typically will have one of these reactions, but sometimes allergy symptoms can be in multiple categories.

Gut reactions

As the name suggests, these allergies occur in your gut or digestive tract. The most common ones are vomiting, stomach pain, and diarrhoea.

Skin reactions

These allergic reactions happen on the skin, as you can guess, but they can occur anywhere on the body. Sometimes they start on the face. Other times they start elsewhere on the body. The rash often looks like a nettle rash or a classic raised rash. You’ll also notice itching and swelling.

Breathing reactions

These reactions be mild but can sometimes be moderate or even severe. They will look like coughing, sneezing, mucus build-up, and even wheezing.

In the case of these kinds of reactions, they’ll start minutes after eating the allergen but can sometimes take hours to kick in.

Severe allergic reactions, or anaphylactic reactions, will always occur within seconds of touching, smelling, or eating the food allergen. These can involve several types of symptoms, but all are potentially life-threatening.

Food intolerances can have symptoms similar to food allergies, which is why allergy and intolerance testing is essential. Knowing what you’re dealing with using facts and data takes that “allergy vs. intolerance” debate out of your mind. Nonetheless, food intolerance symptoms look like this:

  • Bloating
  • Cramping
  • Farting
  • Rumbling stomach
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fatigue
  • Mind fog

Food intolerances often happen hours to days (yes, really) after eating the problem food, so tracking down what you reacted to can be extremely challenging with that delay in place.

Food allergies are always serious

Food allergies and intolerances both should be taken seriously. Both can have significant impacts on your daily life. However, food allergies are more severe than food intolerances since you are dealing with a threat vs. a deficiency (as discussed above).

If nothing else, you should consider allergy and intolerance testing to rule out your mysterious symptoms as an allergen. Known food allergens should always be avoided, even if they are mild, whereas you can technically each your intolerant foods and be perfectly safe.

Don’t guess between allergy vs. intolerance when you are mapping your reaction. Consider an allergy test or combine that with an intolerance test, and get the detailed facts you need to make the best health decisions!

Learning how to understand the differences between a food allergy and a food intolerance from the body’s point of view helps you understand the importance of testing. You owe it to yourself and your health to take the time to learn your triggers for each and then make a plan for your future with the data to back it up!

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