Food Allergy or Food Intolerance

How do I know if I have a food allergy or a food intolerance?

This is a great question and many individuals confuse the two.

A food allergy is defined as an immune system response.
If you have a food allergy, your immune system recognizes the food  protein (allergen) as an invader and produces antibodies to fight it.

The top 8 (most common) allergens in the United States are peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, egg, wheat, soy, shellfish and fish. Though any individual can be allergic to any food.

Food allergy symptoms vary and but can include one or more of the following:

  • Tingling in the mouth
  • Hives, itching or eczema
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, or other parts of the body
  • Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
  • Anaphylaxis

A food intolerance is defined as a digestive system response.
If you have a food intolerance, your digestive system is unable to digest or properly break down the food–or the food in question irritates your digestive system.

The most common food intolerance is to dairy and many individuals also have trouble with gluten. Click on What is Celiac Disease to learn more.

Food intolerance symptoms vary and but can include one or more of the following:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Gas, cramps, or bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Irritability or nervousness

If you are concerned that you might have either a food allergy or intolerance, you should meet with your physician as soon as possible to determine if you need allergy testing.

If you experience severe symptoms, like difficulty breathing, you should contact your local emergency transportation office immediately and/or have someone take you to the nearest hospital.

For more on food allergies, click on Food Allergy Information to be taken to our info page.

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