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Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerances: Key Differences and Management

 Posted on July 24, 2023 in Uncategorized


Although they might sound the same, "food allergy" and "food intolerance" are very different medical conditions. While they may share some similarities in terms of symptoms, the underlying mechanisms, causes, and treatment approaches differ significantly. Here's everything you need to know about food allergies vs. food intolerances.

What Is Food Intolerance?

Affecting 15% to 20% of people in the United States, food intolerance occurs when the digestive system has difficulty processing specific types of food. Individuals with digestive system disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), often experience a higher prevalence of food intolerances. These intolerances can exacerbate symptoms and lead to discomfort and digestive distress. 


The causes of food intolerance can vary. Common factors that can trigger a food intolerance reaction are given below:

● Enzyme Deficiencies: One common cause of food intolerance is the lack of specific enzymes required for proper digestion. For instance, lactose intolerance occurs when the body doesn't produce enough lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose in milk and dairy products.

● Food Additives: Certain food additives, such as sulfites, artificial sweeteners, and monosodium glutamate (MSG), can trigger intolerance symptoms in susceptible individuals.

● Chemical Sensitivities: Some individuals may be sensitive to natural or artificial chemicals in certain foods. For example, histamine intolerance can cause symptoms such as headaches, hives, and digestive issues in response to histamine-rich foods like aged cheeses, fermented foods, and alcoholic beverages.

● Pharmacological Reactions: Some people may experience adverse reactions to naturally occurring chemicals in food, such as caffeine or tyramine, which can be found in chocolate, aged cheese, and certain fruits.


Food intolerance can manifest in several ways, and the symptoms might vary from one person to another. Typical food intolerance symptoms include:

● Digestive Issues – Abdominal pain, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and bloating.

● Respiratory Issues – Wheezing and shortness of breath.

● Headaches or migraines.

● Skin-related problems – Acne, eczema, hives, or rashes.

● Fatigue


Food intolerance is best managed through a long-term plan rather than urgent treatment. An exclusion diet, where the suspected food trigger is avoided for a few weeks (2 to 7 weeks), followed by controlled reintroduction, can help identify the problem.

Monitoring symptoms and keeping a food diary are essential. Each case of food intolerance is unique, and underlying health issues may worsen symptoms, requiring appropriate treatment.

Understanding and managing individual triggers and addressing underlying concerns are key to managing food intolerance effectively.

What Are Food Allergies?

Food allergies are abnormal immune responses triggered by specific foods. When individuals with food allergies consume certain substances, their immune system mistakenly identifies them as harmful and initiates an allergic reaction. Over the last decade, the number of food allergy cases in America has doubled, affecting 5% of children and 4% of adults in the total population.


An immune system malfunction primarily causes food allergies. When the body comes into contact with a specific food allergen, the immune system produces immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. The IgE antibodies trigger the release of various chemicals, including histamine, which leads to allergic symptoms. Several foods can trigger food allergic reactions, some of them are given below:

● Peanuts and tree nuts – Cashews, walnuts, almonds, and peanuts.

● Shellfish and fish – Lobster, shrimp, tuna, and salmon.

● Soybeans

● Wheat – Pasta and bread.

● Eggs

● Sesame

● Dairy products – Yogurt, cheese, and cow's milk.


Depending on the person's immune system, allergy symptoms can surface between a few minutes to hours after ingesting the food.

● Oral symptoms – Itching or tingling in lips, tongue, or mouth.

● Cardiovascular Problems – Fainting, light-headedness, low blood pressure, and rapid heartbeat.

● Respiratory Issues – Wheezing, coughing, nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing.

● Skin reaction – Swelling, eczema, hives, and rashes.

● Digestive Issues – Diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, and nausea.

Severe allergic reactions can lead to anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening condition that causes shortness of breath, low blood pressure, rapid pulse, and loss of consciousness.


Even though there's no cure for food allergies, you can reduce the risk of an allergic reaction by avoiding allergenic food and opting for any of the following treatments if required:

● Allergy Testing: Allergy testing can help identify specific food allergens. This can be done through skin prick tests, blood tests (e.g., IgE levels), or oral food challenges under medical supervision.

● Medications: Antihistamines can help alleviate mild to moderate symptoms. In severe cases or during anaphylaxis, epinephrine (adrenaline) is administered using an auto-injector (e.g., EpiPen).

● Nutritional Guidance: Individuals with food allergies should work with healthcare professionals, such as registered dietitians, to ensure a nutritionally balanced diet while avoiding allergenic foods.

An Overview: Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerances


Food Allergy

Food Intolerance


The individual exhibits an extreme sensitivity towards the allergen or food they are allergic to, rendering them incapable of tolerating even minuscule quantities. The slightest exposure to the food substance triggers a severe and immediate reaction.

The individual is able to consume a minimal portion of the food without experiencing any allergic reaction.


Symptoms might appear either immediately after eating the trigger food or within 2 to 6 hours of ingestion.

Symptoms will appear later but within 24 hours of eating.


The allergic reaction can be extremely severe and even life-threatening.

Although the reaction can be highly unpleasant and severe, it is rarely lethal.


An allergic reaction might occur if the individual consumes a meal prepared for them in an environment containing an allergen.  

The person will only experience a reaction if they eat the specific food.

Trigger Foods

● Fish

● Eggs

● Peanuts or groundnuts

● Milk

● Soybeans

● Tree Nuts – Hazelnuts, Almonds, Walnuts, and Brazil Nuts

● Wheat

● Shellfish

● Processed Meats

● Lactose or Milk

● Grains containing gluten

● Citrus Fruits

● Cabbage

● Beans

Hire a Newland & Newland LLP Food Allergy Attorney Today!

Are you suffering from a food allergic reaction due to the negligence of a chef? The legal team of food allergy attorneys at Newland & Newland LLP can help protect your rights, ensuring you receive the justice and compensation you deserve. We have the best food allergy attorneys in Arlington Heights, Chicago, Libertyville, Crystal Lake, Joliet, and Itasca.

So, what are you still thinking about? Contact us for a free consultation, and let us fight for your rights. Your health matters, and we are here to help you every step of the way.

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