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Food Allergy versus Food Intolerance

February 28, 2019


Food intolerance is defined by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology as “difficulty digesting a particular food”. Food allergies cause an immune system reaction, whereas food intolerance is typically a digestive issue. It is important to understand what exactly you have because of the potentially severe consequences allergies can cause. According to the New York Times, “… some foods can cause both intolerance and allergies. Cow’s milk is a good example. It can provoke bloating and diarrhea in individuals with lactase deficiency — a food intolerance — and can cause wheezing and hives in those allergic to the beta-lactoglobulin milk protein — a food allergy.” Chicago Allergy & Asthma performs specialized testing to determine the difference because the symptoms may overlap. The most common culprits associated with food intolerance tend to be chocolate, food additives, citrus fruits, fish, shellfish, milk, cheese, eggs and nuts.  Symptoms for this include but are not limited to diarrhea, bloating, rashes, headaches, nausea, fatigue, abdominal pain, and runny nose.


In a study published by the journal of allergy and clinical immunology, “Among 2.7 million patients, we identified 97,482 patients (3.6%) with 1 or more food allergies or intolerance's. The prevalence of food allergy and intolerance was higher in females and Asians. The most common food allergen groups were shellfish, fruit or vegetable, dairy, and peanut.” The study did have a hard time differentiating between patient allergies and intolerance's because the symptoms can sometimes overlap and some individuals may suffer from both. The authors also stated that, “The spectrum of severity observed with food allergy highlights the critical need for more allergy evaluations.” Food intolerance and sensitivities can be difficult to diagnose because of their wide range of symptoms.Therefore, the best way you can guard yourself from these potential symptoms is to see a specialist that can use various methods to safely determine a diagnoses and treatment plan.