Food allergies and food intolerance are two thoroughly different reactions often confused for the same thing. A food allergy induces an immune response while food intolerance is a chemical response and often less serious than a food allergy. Many people with food intolerance are able to tolerate a small amount of the offending food and their symptoms are often limited to digestive issues such as bloating, constipation or diarrhea but can include headaches, difficulty breathing, skin sensitivity, sweating and heart palpitations which are symptoms similar to that of an allergy. An example of food intolerance is lactose intolerance, when the body does not produce sufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase in order to properly digest lactose found in dairy products.
On the other hand, food intolerance refers mostly to the inability to process or digest certain foods. The most common food reaction appears to be lactose intolerance. As we get older, our ability to digest dairy decreases.
If you think you may have a food allergy, consider allergy testing and treatment, especially if your symptoms are severe (significant rashes, feeling of passing out, facial swelling, and problems breathing). Scrupulously reading ingredient labels is wise. And carrying epinephrine shots in case of accidental ingestion or contact with the food in question is essential and can be lifesaving.
In general, people who have a food intolerance tend to experience:
- tummy pain, bloating, wind and/or diarrhea
- skin rashes and itching
These symptoms usually happen a few hours after eating the food.
It can be difficult to know whether you have a food intolerance as these are general symptoms that are typical of many other conditions.
The best way of diagnosing a food intolerance is to monitor your 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.
Though food reactions are common, they can be challenging to understand. Identifying the cause can be difficult and time-consuming, but it is worth the time and effort.