Health and Medical

Food Allergy vs. Food Sensitivity: What Are the Differences?

Did you know that almost 10% of the United States population has a food allergy to soy, milk, peanuts, or shellfish? Millions of people deal with food allergies and even more have food sensitivities.

If you experience negative symptoms after eating certain foods or ingredients, you could have one of these conditions.

To help you understand what you’re dealing with, you need to learn the differences between a food allergy vs. food sensitivity. Keep reading to learn more.

What Is Food Sensitivity/Intolerance?

Food sensitivity or intolerance is a common problem for the global population. Food intolerances impact the digestive system and cause respiratory or skin issues.

Food sensitivities occur from a variety of factors that differ from person to person. Some of those factors include:

  • Enzyme deficiencies
  • Sensitivities to certain food additives
  • Environmental allergies
  • Naturally occurring food chemicals

The most common form of food sensitivity is lactose intolerance. Symptoms of this intolerance include nausea, gas, and abdominal pain. Gluten intolerance is also common and refers to those who cannot digest wheat, rye, barley, etc.

What Is a Food Allergy?

A food allergy occurs when the immune system recognizes food components as dangerous. The immune system will overact by producing IgE antibodies.

IgE antibodies drive cells and release chemicals that can cause swelling and difficulty breathing in serious cases. This problem is also known as anaphylaxis.

Small amounts of food touched or consumed can cause an allergic reaction. Other symptoms of anaphylaxis that can range from mild to severe include:

  • Itching and hives
  • Skin swelling
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Respiratory symptoms
  • Rapid pulse
  • Throat constriction
  • Dizziness and fainting

Food allergies cause sleep apnea which can cause your breathing to stop frequently through the night.

Food Allergy vs. Food Sensitivity

The differences between food allergy vs. food sensitivity aren’t always clear because some symptoms are shared. However, when diagnosing a food sensitivity/intolerance, these two characteristics are in mind:

  1. Triggers a reaction in the digestive system or gastrointestinal tract leading to stomach pain and discomfort
  2. Small amounts can be consumed without threatening life

The key difference is that a food allergy can be life-threatening while sensitivity/intolerance is not.

A food allergy is dangerous when left untreated. Without immediate treatment, anaphylaxis is fatal.

To diagnose a food intolerance or sensitivity, you’ll first need to find out if a food allergy is present. The approach to determining if an individual has a food allergy involves these four steps:

  1. Skin prick test
  2. Blood test
  3. Component test
  4. Oral food challenge

These steps should be completed with the help of a medical professional. An oral food challenge is only done if skin and blood tests come back inconclusive.

The oral food test in particular can help determine if a previous allergen has been outgrown.

Do You Have a Food Allergy or Intolerance?

Not determining whether you have a food allergy vs. food sensitivity can be fatal. Food intolerances often cause digestion issues but are not life-threatening.

Although a food allergy can also cause these issues, the symptoms tend to be more severe causing respiratory problems and swelling.

If you believe you have either a food allergy or sensitivity, talk to your primary care doctor about testing. Medical supervision is the safest way to come to a conclusion.

For more articles on health, check out the other posts on our website.

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