What's The Difference Between A Food Allergy And A Food Intolerance?

Although they are sometimes used interchangeably, food allergies and food intolerances are actually quite different from each other. A food allergy is an immune reaction to a certain food that occurs shortly after eating, while a food intolerance occurs in the digestive system (via WebMd). Unlike a food intolerance, a food allergy can be severe and even life-threatening and can cause a range of symptoms, including rashes; hives; itchy skin; swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat; chest pain; wheezing or difficulty breathing; digestive symptoms; and a sudden drop in blood pressure.

Most allergic reactions to food are triggered by eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish, milk, and wheat. A food intolerance, on the other hand, is when your body is unable to properly digest a certain food. This reaction is not life-threatening and usually occurs within hours of eating a food you're intolerant to. Some symptoms of a food intolerance include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gas, and bloating. Intolerance to lactose, a sugar found in dairy, is the most common food intolerance.

How to manage a food allergy or food intolerance

If you think you may have a food allergy or food intolerance, you should talk to your doctor. They will help establish whether or not you have an allergy or an intolerance, and provide you with a plan to help manage your symptoms (via Cleveland Clinic). If you have a food allergy, your physician will most likely conduct either a skin test or a blood test to pinpoint which foods you're allergic to. They may also prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector, also known as an EpiPen, which you should carry with you at all times in case of an emergency.

A food intolerance, on the other hand, is a little more difficult to diagnose. "There are no validated skin or in vitro tests to prove an intolerance," Dr. Mark Aronica, an allergist and immunologist, told the Cleveland Clinic. "The diagnosis is largely made by the patient's history." Keeping a food diary can help you determine which foods are okay for you to eat and which foods cause a digestive reaction. Regardless of whether you have a food allergy or an intolerance, however, you should try to avoid trigger foods. Avoiding foods you're allergic or intolerant can prevent you from experiencing any unpleasant or life-threatening symptoms.