Food intolerance is often confused with food allergy; however the symptoms and reactions are completely different. Allergy is an immediate adverse reaction by the immune system to a specific type of food. The symptoms can be very severe and in some cases, fatal. As the food that contains the allergen is ingested, the body mistakenly treats the ingredient as if it was a harmful pathogen. The reaction, or allergy, is the body trying to fight off the offending food. Signs of food allergies can range from rashes, swelling, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach ache and asthma among others. Most severe cases can include swelling of the lips and tongue, difficulty breathing, and loss of consciousness, which can lead to an anaphylactic shock and death. Most common food allergies include nuts, shellfish, dairy, eggs and wheat.
On the other hand, food intolerance is more common and usually less serious. It appears when the stomach is unable to digest a type of food properly. Symptoms may appear hours or even days later, making it very hard to identify the ingredient that caused the reaction. Symptoms for food intolerance are much more varied and can include migraine, bloating, gas, diarrhea, heartburn, irritability and a general feeling of being unwell. Common food intolerances include: lactose, which is a sugar found in milk and dairy products; gluten and additives among others.
With an allergy, the symptoms are not limited to your stomach, as the whole body reacts adversely to the allergen. Even ingesting the tiniest amount of the offending food will cause a severe reaction. However, with food intolerance, you may be able to eat small amounts of it without having any symptoms.
So how do you find out if you have allergy or intolerance to a certain food? If you suspect you are allergic or intolerant to a certain type of ingredient, the first thing to do is to avoid it. If you are unsure, keeping a diary of the meals you eat and the symptoms you have may help you. However, the best way to find out if you have a food allergy or intolerance is to visit your physician. Your doctor can perform an allergy test and give you guidance and advice on how to handle your new condition.