Food allergy and intolerance/sensitivity are words some people use interchangeably when it comes to food. While they may have similar symptoms, in actuality they are very different conditions. 

Let’s take a closer look at these food related problems. 

Food Intolerance or Allergy?

Food Intolerance

Intolerance or sensitivity to certain food is often caused by an enzyme deficiency. This results in poor digestion with many reactive symptoms. These symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, and passing gas.

Food intolerance doesn’t isn’t life threatening since it’s only a gastric discomfort that can be treated with over the counter medications or diet improvement.

Food Allergy

A food allergy is an immediate exaggerated immune system response to a food protein. As a result your body triggers an allergic reaction. This type of illness is rare and affects roughly 32 million people in the United States. 

A food allergy is caused by an abnormal immune reaction in the body. It includes various health symptoms that target the stomach, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems. In some cases, a food allergy can be deadly and may result in death if not prevented.

The Causes of Food Allergy

Food allergy occurs when small amounts of protein enter the bloodstream. This happens mostly to kids because their gut lining isn’t fully developed. Additionally, allergens from food can also enter the body via the respiratory system.

Eight foods cause about 90% of all allergies. These foods are rich in proteins such as:

  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Eggs
  • Shellfish
  • Fish
  • Tree Nuts
  • Wheat
  • Soy

Aside from protein, gluten is also another culprit that triggers food allergy and intolerance in some cases. Gluten is a type of protein that’s prominent in products such as rye, barley, and wheat.

Getting Support

It’s important to remember that food allergy can be life-threatening and it’s crucial to get tested. While some reactions are mild, others can cause anaphylactic shock.

Tests will help determine if you or your child has a food allergy. Your primary care provider will defer to the professional in this field known as an allergist who will help diagnose and treat these issues. 

Testing for Food Allergies

To check if you are intolerant or allergic to certain types of food, you should get tested as soon as possible. One of the following tests will be performed: 

  • Oral challenge test – Small amounts of the suspected food are provided and consumed. The food may also be supplied in a capsule form or through an injection. Your allergist is there to provide medical treatment in the event of an allergic reaction.
  • Elimination diet – This diet is used to help determine the suspected foods to be eliminated. You will start by removing the food from your diet. You then add the food back to your diet and monitor for an allergic reaction. This strategy is not recommended for people at risk of a severe reaction.
  • Skin prick test – This test is done either on the forearm or back. A small portion of the food is placed beneath the skin with a needle. If the injection site is red, itchy, or bumpy then it’s usually because you’re allergic to the food.
  • Blood test – This test is used to check for IgE antibodies in the blood. These antibodies are produced by the body as an immune system response to allergy-causing foods. A medical professional will take a blood sample and collect it in a small vial for testing. 


There are currently no cures for food related allergies. The best way to prevent any sort of reaction is to eliminate the problem food from your diet. 

These conditions are both very similar in their symptoms but are clearly quite different in their treatment.